The proposal puts forth the idea to let subscribers to cable and satellite services be allowed to choose which broadcast channels they want to pay for as part of their multichannel package — a move that would reduce retransmission fee revenue for broadcasters (which comes in at about $4 billion annually and is steadily increasing), but which would give pay-TV operators more leverage when it comes to content carriage negotiations, thus hopefully heading off the TV blackouts that sometimes arise.
Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Thune, its ranking member, plan to attach their proposal to the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA), which is now making its way through Congress.
Broadcasters are nonplussed with the proposal. Dennis Wharton, spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, said that the proposal "represents a significant rewrite of the Communications Act. Given the shortness of time between now and the end of the Congressional session, we question whether there is sufficient time for key committees in Congress to give this proposal the thorough review that is warranted."
The American Cable Association is, unsurprisingly, backing the measure. "ACA believes that Senator Rockefeller and Senator Thune, acting in a bipartisan fashion on an important consumer welfare issue, deserve the highest praise for offering a legislative proposal designed to advance the public interest in the receipt of over-the-air local broadcast stations from pay-TV providers," said ACA president and CEO Matthew Polka.
He added: "The approach taken by Senators Rockefeller and Thune is to put consumers first. It will permanently remove consumers from retransmission consent disputes and provide consumers with more choice in the selection of TV station programming than they have seen in decades."