Television consumers who rely on Time Warner Cable in some parts of the country cannot watch programming produced by the CBS television network due to a corporate financial dispute.
The impasse is largely over the amount of the fee that Time Warner must pay CBS to distribute its programming to its cable subscribers. CBS programming remains free to the public over airwaves using an antenna, but it is not a reliable or convenient alternative. These negotiations involve a host of issues, as each company tries to get the best deal for its shareholders.
While the two companies negotiate over fees, civil rights and consumer advocates argue that is not right for a dispute to end up denying viewers access to important news and emergency information. And in many markets such as New York and Los Angeles, this loss of access to programming affects large numbers of African Americans, Latinos and seniors.
Consumer advocates and civil rights groups over the years have worked with Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to develop a series of rules governing the relationships between content providers and distributors that are designed to promote a diversity of voices and ensure communities have access to essential local news and information offered by over-the-air broadcasting.
As The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights explained in a 2011 letter to the FCC Chairman regarding retransmission fees:
Unfortunately, when large companies negotiate carriage agreements, subscribers and viewers are often left in the middle, possibly being deprived of programming if corporate negotiations fail. Even worse, the highly concentrated media marketplace means that independent programming is left on the sidelines, while large cable programmers and broadcasters receive nationwide distribution for programming that offers little that serves the full diversity of the audience.
The civil rights community has long regarded diversity and competition in media as an important goal because of the powerful role the media plays in the democratic process, as well as in shaping perceptions about who we are as individuals and as a nation. The current system does not work. The current media ecosystem does not give small independent programmers control over their creations. The underlying structure of our media puts consumers on the sidelines as large companies make decisions about what we are able to see and hear.