Here's what it all means

September 06, 1993|By David Zurawik

QUESTION: What is retransmission consent?

ANSWER: It's part of the Cable TV Act of 1992, a law that was supposed to provide consumer relief. The act says that as of Oct. 6, cable TV systems can no longer carry local TV stations without the permission of the stations.

It also says that cable operators must give customers 30 days' advance notice when a station might be taken off a cable system because permission has not been given.

That's the reason for one of the recent notices from your cable company.

Q: As a cable subscriber, what does that mean to me?

A: The bottom line is that some of your favorite network shows -- like "60 Minutes" or "Roc" -- may not be on your cable TV after Oct. 6. And, you might not be able to see the World Series or "Monday Night Football."

Q: How can that happen?

A: Under the new law, most local stations have demanded money for the right to carry their programming. Most cable companies have refused to pay. If no deal is made by Oct. 6, the local channel will be off the cable system. If the local channel is a network affiliate, that means network programs will be off the cable system in most cases.

Q: Why do you say most cases?

A: Because it not only varies from cable company to cable company, but also from system to system within companies, depending on geography.

For example, Comcast Cablevision in Baltimore County does not have permission yet from WJZ (Channel 13), the ABC affiliate in Baltimore, to carry its signal. If there is no deal by Oct. 6, you will not be able to see "ABC Monday Night Football" on cable in Baltimore County.

Comcast Cablevision in Howard County has no contract with WJZ, either. But that system has always carried both Baltimore and Washington affiliates. So, it is also negotiating with WJLA (Channel 7), the ABC affiliate in Washington.

Q: So, what are my options?

A: The two options most discussed are A/B switches, which allow cable subscribers to switch to over-the-air reception, and satellite dishes.

Call your cable operator and ask if they are supplying and installing A/B switches for free. Some who indicated they would do that earlier when retransmission first surfaced are now waffling. Remember, you will probably still need rabbit ears or an antenna if you go to an A/B switch.

Q: What else can I do?

A: Call the cable company, ask them about the A/B switch and tell them you don't want to see the network stations disappear. Also, call your local stations and tell them you don't want to see them off cable. But don't rush out and buy anything yet. Everyone expects lots of 11th-hour deals.

Also, don't try to call the cable companies or local stations today. They are not staffed for that kind of volume on a holiday. Wait until Tuesday or you'll feel even more frustrated.

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