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FCC scolds CBS, Time Warner Cable

At the FCC’s open meeting today acting chairwoman Mignon Clyburn issued a vague threat of commission action  to CBS and Time Warner Cable if they do not quickly resolve their retransmission consent dispute that has resulted in CBS stations going dark on TWC systems in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas.

“Quite frankly I am deeply disappointed that the parties seem to be unable to reach a retransmission agreement,” Clyburn said. “I am really distressed that consumers and viewers are being adversely affected and my primary concern remains with them. We will continue to urge both parties to stay and resolve in good faith this issue as soon as possible.”

She added she is “ready to consider appropriate action” if the blackout continues but did not specify what actions she would consider.

Clyburn’s warning came one day after the two sides were hauled before the New York City Council to testify about the dispute.

In truth, there’s not much the FCC can do to resolve the dispute in the short term. So long as both sides continue to negotiate in “good faith,” the commission lacks the authority to intervene. The two sides agreed to return to the bargaining table on Thursday following the hearing in New York.

According to a detailed, insider account of the negotiations in the Wall Street Journal, the dispute at this point has largely become a fight over digital rights to CBS shows, and it’s hard to see how CBS would not win that one. That makes it all the more puzzling that the network would risk over-playing its hand by blocking online access to its content by Time Warner Cable broadband subscribers — a move that seems almost perversely intended to irritate regulators.