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FCC Chief: End Channel Blackouts; But It's Not My Job
By Swanni

Washington, D.C. (March 13, 2013) - FCC chairman Julius Genachowski yesterday seemed ready to enact new policies that would eliminate channel blackouts in fee fights. But the agency chief suddenly backed off his stance in the blink of an eye.

Testifying before a Senate panel on Tuesday, Genachowski was asked by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) what could be done about sports blackouts. But Genachowski surprisingly switched the subject to channel blackouts that occur when TV providers and programmers can't reach a new carriage agreement. (The fee fights are called 'retransmission negotiations' in the industry.)

"An area where (blackouts) come up to often is in the retransmission consent area," the FCC chief said, according to Broadcasting & Cable magazine. "It may be time to update those provisions to reduce the chances of those blackouts during retransmission consent negotiation."

The FCC arguably could amend the retransmission rules, which govern the negotiations between TV providers and networks, but has been reluctant to do so for various reasons, not the least of which is political pressure from special interest groups such as the National Association of Broadcasters.

But Genachowski's statement seemed to be a change in his position and it led to an instant chorus of hope on Twitter pages across the nation. But the agency chief quickly retreated with his next comment.

"Our authority under the existing statute is limited. This may be an area where we need to work with the committee," he added.

In other words, he told the Senate the ball is in their court, not the FCC's, which is bad news for viewers who would like to see channel blackouts in fee fights come to an end. The Senate has also been unwilling to take on the issue for the same reason the FCC has not: political pressure.

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