Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) fired off a letter to FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler, arguing that the agency not move forward with a vote to end broadcast exclusivity rules as it embarks on a wider reform of retransmission licensing.
"It is not appropriate or consistent with Congressional intent for the commission to unilaterally disrupt one aspect of the current regulatory and statutory regime outside of the context of that broader debate," Schumer said.
Wheeler has proposed ending the 50-year-old exclusivity rules, which he calls outdated. The rules restrict pay-TV operators from licensing the signal of a distant network affiliate in the event that a network's local affiliate is blacked out amid a retransmission licensing negotiating impasse.
Wheeler argues that such exclusivity is built into the language of most retransmission contracts, and regulation isn't necessary. His proposal has been backed, not surprisingly, by members of the cable TV lobby, notably the American Cable Association.
Schumer conceded, "It is very clear that technological and market innovations have changed the nature of broadcasting dramatically. And, certainly, no party to the current system is entirely happy with how it is working. However, that look must be comprehensive, and must include a broad, public dialogue with Congress and all the relevant stakeholders."
The National Association of Broadcasters has argued against removing the exclusivity rules. The NAB has said that the existing rules "enhance localism." The group has also argued that the rules "create a significant marketplace efficiency by preventing protracted and expensive litigation over private marketplace deals."
ACA fires back at NAB, says it has no problem with privately negotiated exclusivity arrangements
FCC Media Bureau chief Bill Lake: Time to end 'outdated' exclusivity rules
FCC's Wheeler thrills pay-TV operators, proposes removal of exclusivity rules from retrans negotiations