John Eggerton

Sens Introducing E-Labeling Bill

Sens Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Deb Fischer (R-NE) are introducing a bill, the E-Label Act--that would give equipment manufacturers the option of delivering Federal Communications Commission labeling information electronically -- on screen -- on devices like computer, TV's and phones.

"As devices become smaller, compliance with 6 physical label requirements can become more difficult and costly," says the bill, according to a copy. “CEA welcomes the E-LABEL Act," said Veronica O’Connell, VP of government and political affairs, for the Consumer Electronics Association. "The Federal Communications Commission’s existing physical labeling requirements are burdensome, costly and present logistical challenges for consumer electronics manufacturers. The E-LABEL Act would give device manufacturers the option to present on a wireless device’s display or screen the markings and identifiers normally required to be fixed to the device’s casing."

In something of an unusual bipartisan show of support, Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Michael O'Rielly voiced their joint approval.

House Commerce Committee Republicans Pan E-Rate Proposal

House Commerce Committee leaders have told Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler that any effort to expand the size of the E-Rate subsidy is a non-starter.

The FCC is planning to vote on a Wheeler-led revamp of the E-Rate program. The program, subsidized by telecom companies -- and ultimately rate-payers -- provides advanced telecommunications to schools and libraries.

In this case, Chairman Wheeler wants to boost investment in wireless broadband in an effort to migrate it from traditional service. In a letter to Chairman Wheeler, House Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Communications Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), said they were concerned by reports the FCC planned to grow the Universal Service Fund E-Rate subsidy beyond its current $9 billion "on the back of rate-payers."

CEA: Retransmission Consent Reforms Should Be In Satellite Bill

The Consumer Electronics Association has asked the leadership of the relevant House and Senate committees to include retransmission consent reforms as part of must-pass legislation reauthorizing the satellite compulsory distant-signal license.

CEA president Gary Shapiro said reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act was the right venue for reforming what he said were "outdated" retransmission consent regulations. He put in a plug for cable and satellite operators, saying that MVPDs "have served the broadcasters well. They retransmit the broadcaster programming into the same local market where broadcasters must, as a condition of their broadcasting license, make that programming available for free.

As a result of the quality and convenience of cable and satellite retransmissions, more than 93% of American consumers rely on multichannel video providers to receive local TV broadcast stations a dramatic change from 1992, when some 40% of households received their broadcast programming over the air." He said by contrast, "broadcasters have used the retransmission right to demand retransmission fee increases of several orders of magnitude."

Writers Guild of America East to FCC: Ban Paid Priority, Period

The Writers Guild of America East says the Federal Communications Commission should prohibit paid priority and that presuming it to be commercially unreasonable, as FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said would be his presumption if the results were disadvantaging competitors, is not enough.

WGAE also says the FCC should broaden network neutrality to prohibit paid priority deals for edge provider access to distribution networks, the "paid peering" arrangements that the Comcast/Netflix deals has put a spotlight on.

"The willingness of Netflix to pay Comcast/NBCU and Verizon huge fees to ensure swift and smooth streaming is economically rational for all the entities (and therefore commercially reasonable)," said WGAE in explaining how a commercially reasonable standard might not protect consumers. "Netflix’s product is made substantially more attractive to customers as a result, and Comcast/NBCU and Verizon gain enhanced revenues. Unfortunately, this also means that customers face upward price pressure, and content creators and distributors who do not pay for this prioritization have a substantially more difficult time attracting viewers."

Broadcasters Supply Sen McCaskill Cable Bill Beef Ammo

Broadcasters are looking to help out with Sen Claire McCaskill's (D-MO) inquiry into pay-TV billing practices and service quality.

In a letter to the senator, who chairs the Senate Consumer Protection Subcommittee, TVFreedom.org (network affiliate associations and the National Association of Broadcasters, among others), shared what it said was independent analysis that showed "3,050 substantial service failures experienced by the five largest pay-TV service providers in the United States during the first five months of 2014."

Sen McCaskill has launched a cable bill service "beef" site where Missourians can register their complaints, saying it was a prelude to possible legislation. TVFreedom, which has been hammering cable ops over their bills as part of a campaign against retrans reforms, was glad to help out, saying it was in furtherance of that effort that it was submitting its independent findings.

"This data highlights concerns regarding pay-TV service and broadband network reliability across the nation," said TVFreedom spokesperson Robert Kenny. "In light of increasing profit margins for the nation’s largest multi-billion dollar pay-TV service providers, unreliable service or faulty infrastructure raises questions about the commitment each of these companies has to consumer service quality."

Dish's Ergen to FCC: Deny Comcast/TWC Merger

Dish told the Federal Communications Commission to disallow the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger. In meetings with all the commissioners, FCC staffers, and bureau chiefs, Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen said the proposed Comcast/TWC deal presented "serious competitive concerns" and "therefore should be denied."

Comcast and TWC have argued to the FCC and Congress that their merger would allow them to be more competitive with national platforms like Dish, but according to FCC documents, Ergen told the FCC assemblage that the combined company would have too much leverage over the "lifeblood of over-the-top video": high-capacity "cable" broadband connections.

Ergen said Comcast/TWC would have three "choke" points it could use to harm competing for video service: the last mile connection, interconnections, and specialized services. "It will be able to extract lower prices from programmers, which, in turn, will force programmers to extract even higher rates from smaller pay-TV providers like DISH in order to compensate the programmers for lost revenue," Ergen and other Dish execs said. "And a combined Comcast/TWC will have the incentive and ability to restrict programmers’ ability to grant digital rights to competing pay-TV and OTT video providers."

PTC Seeks Indecency Complaints Against CBS’ ‘Reckless’

The Parents Television Council is calling on its members to file indecency complaints against CBS over a recent episode of Reckless. The episode was rated TV-14 (for sex, language and violence), so viewers were warned, but PTC says there was too much of that for a show that airs at 8 p.m. central/mountain and 9 p.m. ET.

PTC was concerned about scenes of sexual assault in a June 29 episode, scenes it called explicit and a violation of indecency rules.

Limited Government Group Wants To Limit Satellite Bill

Americans for Limited Government want a limited satellite reauthorization bill or, preferably, no new compulsory license at all.

In a letter to Sen John Thune (R-SD), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, Americans for Limited Government President Nathan Mehrens said that it would be better for the satellite compulsory license to expire and program negotiations revert to the marketplace. But if it has to be extended, any such reauthorization should exclude retransmission consent reforms.

"Congress has recognized broadcasters' right to compensation for the product of their labor from cable and satellite providers for retransmission of their stations' valuable signals to subscribers," Mehrens said. "Under the current system, broadcasters and pay television providers negotiate in the free market to reach mutually beneficial agreements -- with agreements successfully reached an overwhelming majority of the time. It would be a mistake for the federal government to hobble broadcasters' right to negotiate fair market value for their product."

ACT Takes Stand for TVFreedom

American Community Television -- which has been battling cable operators over public, educational, and government (PEG) channel placement -- has joined broadcasters in battling them over retransmission consent reforms.

TVFreedom.org said that ACT had become a member of the coalition, which includes network affiliate associations, the National Association of Broadcasters and others pushing back against calls for retransmission consent reforms.

"Local broadcast TV stations and PEG channels often work together to deliver vital public service, educational and religious programming to viewers in their communities and cannot be replicated by pay-TV or broadband service providers," said ACT executive director Bunnie Riedel.

Journalists Accuse White House of Politically-Driven Suppression of News

Over three dozen journalist organizations including the Radio Television Digital News Association, National Press Foundation, and the Society of Professional Journalists, have asked President Barack Obama to drop the "excessive controls" on public information by federal agencies, branding it "politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies."

There has been an ongoing tension between broadcast, print and online journalists and the Obama Administration, with complaints that the Administration has limited access to events, while providing its own "coverage" through official channels.

In a letter to President Obama, the groups complained about policies that require journalists to go through public information officers (PIOs) before talking with staff and that have PIOs vetting interview questions and monitoring interviews with sources.