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THEIRS: Local Choice A Better Option For TV Viewers By Jim Gleason

In the following article that originally appeared in the Rapid City (S.D.) Journal 
on April 25, Vast 
Broadband CEO and ACA Board member Jim Gleason stressed the need for Congress to pass a Local Choice law to replace the broken retransmission consent regime, which is driving up the price of cable and leading to a record number of TV station-caused blackouts:

Cable and satellite TV subscribers want more choices and options, but Lia Green, president and general manager of KOTA in Rapid City, has other ideas.

The TV station executive recently told the Rapid City Journal that Congress must retain a law related to cable distribution of TV signals that just about everyone knows is broken, drives up monthly cable bills and fuels a record number of TV blackouts staged by local TV station owners nationwide.

TV stations like KOTA have the right to demand payment from cable operators under a federal law called retransmission consent. The law allows KOTA to pull its signal when its demands aren’t met and prevents customers wanting non-broadcast channels from opting out of receiving this content. This means all KOTA has to do is wait until the cable operator capitulates and starts forking over astronomical sums for what broadcasters like to call “free TV.” Who gets hurt by such a crazy system? The cable subscriber, naturally.

Consumers deserve better from Congress. They need a new law that will eliminate TV signal blackouts on cable systems forever. The fairest way to accomplish this is found in a bill proposed last year by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune of South Dakota.

Called Local Choice, Sen. Thune’s bipartisan measure would require cable operators to carry all local TV stations in a market, with the per-channel price set by the stations. Cable subscribers would have the opportunity to decide whether to pay a station’s fee or have it dropped from their cable package. Cable operators would not see a dime of the TV stations’ Local Choice revenue.

Local Choice gives cable subscribers the ability for the first time to exercise some control over their cable bills. Such a change could not come at a better time. According to market research firm SNL Kagan, broadcasters’ retransmission consent fees are expected to exceed $7.1 billion this year. Rather than fully fund local news on KOTA, about 65 percent of all retrans dollars will end up in the coffers of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox in what the networks call “reverse compensation,” according to a Wells Fargo analyst.

Some broadcasters have embraced Local Choice but just not for cable subscribers. Last October, CBS launched a service called CBS All Access, which streams CBS TV stations over the Internet for $5.99 a month.

Netflix, Hulu, and Apple TV are scoring with consumers — an obvious sign that the pay-TV bundle isn’t working because local TV stations have grown far too expensive and some local TV executives refuse to see that the broadcaster retransmission consent status quo is at war with a marketplace teeming with apps and options. Although TV stations brag they are the best at describing what the rest of us are doing, they never seem to want to look in the mirror.

With passage of Sen. Thune’s Local Choice idea, cable customers will get a new deal. Without it, they will keep getting a raw deal from their local TV stations.

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