Broadcasters ramp up retrans battle, ask Congress to investigate pay TV pricing

Escalating a D.C.-based battle over retransmission fee policy, the broadcast industry-backed organization TVFreedom sent a letter Tuesday to the respective leaders of the House and Senate communications oversight subcommittees, pushing them to investigate pay TV pricing.

"Only congressional leadership and expertise can help loosen the cable and satellite TV operators' bottleneck-grip on the marketplace and provide monetary relief to pay-TV customers across the country," reads the letter.

The missive was also signed by nonprofits the Media Alliance and The Hispanic Institute, which are member organizations of TVFreedom. The latter, which is backed by the Big Four broadcast networks, provides support for broadcast retransmission efforts.

TVFreedom is asking congressional committee leaders to "focus on pay-TV industry wide practices, such as erroneous overbilling, equipment rental fees, early termination fees, and inflated or unnecessary 'extra' charges" as they begin the process of updating the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

"The marketplace has failed to adequately address significant annual increases in consumers' monthly pay-TV bills," the letter adds. "As a result, consumer choice for video service across the country remains limited and family budgets must bear the heavy financial burden of ever-escalating monthly pay-TV bills."

As Broadcasting & Cable / Multichannel News D.C. bureau chief John Eggerton notes, TVFreedom's letter comes as an opposing force, the American Television Association (ATVA), which backs pay-TV operators, is simultaneously pushing Congress to reform retransmission consent legislation.

According to recently released data from SNL Kagan, broadcast retransmission fees are forecast to more than double to $7.6 billion by 2019, and are undoubtedly a major contributor to any steady drumbeat of overall pay TV price increases.

ATVA spokesman Brian Fredrick noted to Eggerton that TVFreedom asked eight consumer groups to sign on to its letter to Congress, and all of them demurred. "Presumably, [it was] because they could all see it's nothing more than a lame smokescreen," Fredrick said. 

For more:
- read this TVFreedom letter
- read this Multichannel News story

Related links:
Aereo pitches legitimacy of its tech in new YouTube video
TV interest groups rise to fight the retransmission wars