Retransmission consent refers to a regulatory structure created nearly twenty years ago to govern carriage of broadcast TV stations by video distributors. It affects cable companies, satellite companies, and telephone companies alike.
This regulatory structure granted local broadcast stations, which already enjoy free use of the public airwaves, the unilateral right either to demand mandatory carriage on the cable system or to negotiate for carriage. If a station chooses the latter, video distributors are prohibited by law from carrying the station without the station's consent. (Before the creation of this regulatory structure, stations were not permitted to hold their programming hostage in this manner, and video distributors did not need such permission.)
Twenty years later, the competitive environment for video distributors has changed dramatically. Companies that own the local broadcast TV stations are increasingly imposing huge demands for cash that drive up a cable, satellite, or telephone company’s costs of doing business, and the prices for all of their customers.
For example, a company that today owns both local broadcast TV stations and cable networks can require higher fees on all its channels—not just the local broadcast TV station that the retransmission consent law originally intended to protect. As a result, for a distributor to carry the local broadcast TV station, it might find itself forced to pay higher fees for other, non-broadcast TV stations.
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