Pressure mounting for FCC to intervene in Fox-Cablevision battle, but analysts question ability
Pressure is mounting for the Federal Communications Commission to intervene in the fees dispute between Fox and Cablevision. But some analysts say there are legal doubts about the agency's ability to restore television signals for viewers caught in the battle.
On Wednesday, Commissioner Michael Copps, a Democrat, said in a statement that legislation that has so far prevented the FCC from intervening in retransmission fees negotiations is outdated. But, he said, as an agency that is supposed to serve the public interest, the FCC may have the authority to intervene in the negotiations stalemate that has resulted in a five-day outage of Fox's local channels to New Jersey and New York customers.
"if the Fox-Cablevision dispute proves anything, it is that consumers are clearly not being protected," Copps said in a statement. "I believe the Commission should take a very serious look at whether ‘good faith’ negotiations are indeed occurring. What, indeed, does ‘good faith’ mean in the dog-eat-dog world of big media? If such talks are not taking place, we should move promptly to protect consumers."
The comments come after FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's criticism of both parties' lobbying war and inabilty to come to an agreement. Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) has also issued a draft of legislation that would grant the FCC clear authority to mediate negotiations and force broadcasters to keep running their channels during contract disputes.
But analysts said direct intervention would face fierce opposition.
"Any attempt by the FCC to require News Corp. to restore signals to Cablevision would face a better-than-even chance of being reversed in court. It would also set a precedent of intervention that the FCC probably wishes to avoid," Paul Gallant, an investment analyst at Concept Capital, said in a research note. "And as we have noted previously, should the FCC pursue a rulemaking to revise the retrans rules on an industry-wide basis, we believe that too would face a tough court fight."
| October 20, 2010; 2:39 PM ET
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