Top broadcast lobbyist: Communications law rewrite will be ‘battle royal’

The House Commerce Committee’s rewrite of the law governing the telecommunications industry will be a “battle royal,” according to the top broadcast lobbyist.

“It’s going to be a battle royal in Washington and engage all the telecommunications industry,” Gordon Smith, President of the National Association of Broadcasters, told Broadcasting & Cable.

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In an interview published Monday, Smith said that the House Commerce rewrite of the Communications Act “is going to be as broad as telecommunications” but broadcasters will focus on retransmission consent, which allows broadcasters to charge cable companies for the ability to carry broadcast programming.

As the House Commerce Committee begins its years-long process to rewrite the Communications Act — which governs regulation of the telecommunications industry and was last updated in 1996 — the issue of retransmission consent is a contentious one.

Satellite and cable companies say the current negotiating system gives broadcasters too much power because they can withhold their programming, resulting in blackouts for subscribers, seen in last year’s dispute between CBS and Time Warner Cable.

Broadcasters say retransmission consent works as it allows broadcasters to negotiate compensation for the content that drives profits for cable companies.

In the Broadcasting & Cable interview, Smith commented on the recent Supreme Court decision to take up the Aereo case, which pits broadcasters against Aereo, an Internet-streaming service that provides users with broadcast content without compensating the broadcasters.

Smith said he is worried about the precedent that the court could set, not Aereo’s business.

“If a way is found to skirt copyright, then content in the future will go uncompensated and decline in quality,” he said.

Smith said he hopes that the court “will affirm that you can’t take over-the-air stuff and sell it to other people without triggering copyright protections.”