Cable One exec: Congress must ‘repeal and replace’ retrans rules

FCC headquarters
"Congress needs to embrace reforms" on retransmission licensing, Cable One's SVP of operations said.

With his cable company still blacked out on Northwest Broadcasting affiliates in Idaho, Mississippi and Cleveland, Cable One Senior VP of Operations Charles McDonald penned an op-ed on Morning Consult asking Congress to “repeal and replace” laws regulating broadcast retransmission licensing.

“Enough is enough. Congress needs to embrace reforms that expose retransmission consent to real market forces,” McDonald said. “Otherwise, harmful blackouts will continue to rise and the price for ‘free TV’ will go nowhere but up.”

RELATED: Altice sees Idaho ABC affiliate taken down as broadcaster blackout binge continues

McDonald’s attempt to further politicize the retrans issue comes amid a transition of power at the FCC, with Republican Ajit Pai taking over as chairman from Tom Wheeler. 

In the past, Pai has agreed with cable operators that blackouts of stations harm consumers. But he has also said that any change to the rules must come from Congress, making alterations through the Communications Act. 

So where does the current Republican-controlled Congress stand on the retrans issue under a new president, whose belief system isn’t yet fully understood, even by his own staff? It's certainly a question worth kicking the tires on if you’re Cable One, which as McDonald pointed out is blacked out amid the Northwest kerfuffle in some Mississippi markets on all of the Big Four broadcast networks. 

“Although Federal Communications Commission rules generally limit ownership to one or two stations per market, somehow Northwest Broadcasting has gained control of all Big 4 network feeds in these small Mississippi markets,” McDonald said.

“Broadcasting and pay-TV providers are legally required to negotiate retransmission consent in good faith,” he added. "Since the start of 2017, however, TV stations have initiated 75 blackouts—that’s more than the combined number of blackouts to start 2016 (14), 2015 (26) and 2014 (5). Four million households in 25 states and 46 markets have been victimized by dark TV screens just days into the new year.”