Eliminate Confusion, Consumers Win

Suddenlink and four other cable operators are asking the FCC to establish a “quiet period,” starting later this year and running through May of next year. The reason: To help avoid any confusion that might be created by the overlap of “retransmission consent” negotiations and the DTV transition.

We’ve already written here about the DTV transition. “Retransmission consent” is an artifact of a 1992 law and it essentially works this way:

If a TV station chooses to be a retransmission-consent station, cable operators must (per federal law) negotiate with the TV station for permission (consent) to carry that station’s signal on their cable systems.

If those negotiations break down, the TV station has the right to prohibit the cable operator from “retransmitting” its signal. If the cable operator is already carrying the TV station’s signal, the TV station can force the cable operator to drop that signal.

In recent years, this scenario has played itself out all-too-frequently. Regular readers of this blog may remember the situation Suddenlink faced with KXAN in the Austin TV market. And we’re certainly not alone.

Such issues could be further complicated later this year, when the five cable companies involved in this request face retransmission-consent negotiations covering more than eight million households. If even a portion of those negotiations break down, several million homes could be told they’re going to lose broadcast TV stations at the same time they’re being told they won’t lose those stations during the DTV transition.

The requested “quiet period” would prevent this potential confusion by requiring both the cable operators and the TV stations to maintain the status quo until May 2009, well after the digital transition should be completed.

And who exactly benefits from this scenario? The consumer.

Here’s hoping the FCC acts on the request in a timely manner.