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Sen. Edward Markey calls for FCC to intervene in CBS, TWC dispute

By Ryan Faughnder

8:10 PM EDT, August 6, 2013

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Customers have been calling on Time Warner Cable and CBS Corp. to resolve their ongoing carriage dispute that has resulted in channels going dark in several markets including Los Angeles and New York.

Now politicians are demanding an end to the blackout. 

Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who recently won John F. Kerry's Senate seat, on Tuesday asked the Federal Communications Commission to step in and restart negotiations.

"I believe the public interest would be best served if carriage is restored by the parties at the earliest possible time so that consumers are not long caught in the middle," Markey said in a letter to the commission.

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The fight between the two companies last week resulted in a blackout of CBS-owned media outlets for Time Warner Cable customers in several markets. The pay cable channel Showtime is also dark on Time Warner Cable.

At issue are fees that CBS wants to charge Time Warner Cable to carry its local television stations. CBS is seeking a hefty increase in so-called retransmission consent fees, which Time Warner Cable is resisting.

CBS, which makes a substantial amount of its programming available on its website CBS.com, has also been blocking access from Time Warner Cable's Internet subscribers since Friday afternoon. 

Markey, the House of Representatives' primary author of the 1992 Cable Act, expressed dismay at the Web blockage in his letter to the FCC, calling the result "anti-consumer," and asked the commission to investigate.  

"A consumer’s choice of cable television provider should not be tied to her ability to access Internet content that is freely available to other consumers," he said. "In such instances, consumers lose their freedom to access the Internet content of their choice."

Also on Tuesday, Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), who sits on the Communications and Technology Subcommittee in the House of Representatives, released a statement urging Time Warner Cable and CBS to reach a resolution quickly.  

"It has been my long held belief that consumers should not be held hostage when retransmission disputes break down," Eshoo said. "I also intend to carefully examine whether changes to current law are needed to adequately protect consumers and prevent the reoccurrence of blackouts."

Here's Markey's full letter: 

August 6, 2013

The Honorable Mignon Clyburn
Acting Chairwoman
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20554

Dear Acting Chairwoman Clyburn:

As the primary author in the House of Representatives of the 1992 Cable Act that created the retransmission consent regime and the author of the first net neutrality bill introduced in the House, I am writing to express my concern about the ongoing retransmission consent dispute between Time Warner Cable and CBS. 

I make no representations as to the merits of either side’s position, as they are contractual discussions between private parties. Nevertheless, I encourage both parties to remain engaged in good faith negotiations, and I also request that the Commission take action to bring the parties together so these negotiations can be concluded in an equitable and expeditious manner.  I believe the public interest would be best served if carriage is restored by the parties at the earliest possible time so that consumers are not long caught in the middle. 

I am also particularly concerned by reports that CBS is blocking access to its Internet-based video for Time Warner Cable broadband customers.  A consumer’s choice of cable television provider should not be tied to her ability to access Internet content that is freely available to other consumers.  In such instances, consumers lose their freedom to access the Internet content of their choice.  This is an anti-consumer result that I urge the Commission to investigate, and I encourage the Commission to actively defend Internet freedom and consumer rights. 

Thank you for your attention to this important issue.   

Sincerely,

Edward J. Markey

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ryan.faughnder@latimes.com