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Will Congress Enter the Fray Over Pay TV Blackouts?

ESPN anchors Stuart Scott, Trent Dilfer and Steve Young, from left, on Sept. 17, 2012, in Atlanta
ESPN anchors Stuart Scott, Trent Dilfer and Steve Young, from left, on Sept. 17, 2012, in AtlantaPhotograph by Pouya Dianat/AP Images

The month-long blackout of CBS programming on Time Warner Cable in several major cities irritated millions of television viewers. Pay television players such as TWC, Dish Network and Cox Communications are now lobbying for Congress to step in and stop these blackouts.

They’re hoping to gain leverage in negotiations over how much they’ll have to pay for the right to carry programs from content companies, including CBS, ESPN, Viacom, and 21st Century Fox. These “retransmission fees” are expected to top $3 billion this year. Networks insist they’re essential to their revenue growth; cable companies complain they’re too high and that the cable companies have little power to stop them from getting higher. “The rules are woefully out of date, are the primary reason cable bills are rising, and too frequently leave our customers without the programming they love,” Time Warner Cable Chief Executive Glenn Britt said in a statement after the CBS dispute ended.