Office Hours

Should Congress prevent station 'blackouts' in contract disputes?

If you're one of the thousands of area TV households that are blacked-out because of the dispute between Northwest Broadcasting Inc. and DIRECTV, here's one option: contact Congress.

The dispute led to a full FOX network blackout for about 170,000 households who use DIRECTV in five TV markets to watch Spokane's KAYU and other stations.

Nearly every year some provider, like Comcast, Time Warner, Dish Network or DIRECTV engages in a  stare-down with a broadcast company over retransmission payments. That's the negotiated price carriers like DIRECTV pay to broadcasters like Northwest Broadcasting for providing that station's programs to subscribers.

The American Television Alliance, based in D.C., has advocated for viewer protection by suggesting Congress or the FCC should set rules over retransmission disputes. Its website includes a link where concerned viewers can email Congress. It's here or http://www.americantelevisionalliance.org/whats-the-issue/ if you need to cut and paste.

The next question: Do you want Congress involved in broadcast disputes? There are a range of answers; and the one we think is acceptable is: No.

We don't want federal intervention other than requiring stations to carry those signals while a contract dispute lingers.

But also, there needs to be some time limit on that mandated continued coverage. If it's an open-ended requirement that no broadcasts can be shut down during a dispute, it's certain that some contract impasses will linger longer than they now do.

Is there a better idea out there?  Let's hear your suggestions....




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Tom Sowa
Tom Sowa covers technology, retail and economic development and writes the Office Hours blog.




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