WASHINGTON — On Wednesday, Free Press Action President and CEO Craig Aaron testified at a hearing on “The State of the Television and Video Marketplace” before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet.
In his testimony, Aaron describes the ways in which cable companies gouge the public and broadcasters fail to serve the public interest. He advocates for putting the power of television and video in the hands of people and local communities, and outlines a number of policies that would achieve this goal.
Aaron’s full written testimony is available here (PDF).
His opening remarks appear below:
“Thank you Chairman Wicker, Ranking Member Cantwell and members of the Committee for inviting me to testify today.
“A thriving TV and video marketplace should spur competition, encourage innovation, amplify diverse voices and viewpoints, empower creators, and provide communities with the local news and information they need. So often when we come together in these halls to talk about the state of the media, we talk about industry vs. industry, broadcasting vs. cable, old media vs. new. I hope today we can talk more about the audience, the viewers, the bill payers, and the public.
“As Congress has long recognized, companies that control the public airwaves, dig up city streets, put up towers, or launch satellites must have public responsibilities. What the public needs from them is more competition, more choices, more diversity, more transparency, and — especially — lower prices. These should be the Committee’s priorities as it renews and refreshes the laws shaping our communications system.
“Yes, the TV and video marketplace is evolving. But the reality is that Americans still spend far more time on traditional cable and broadcast TV than on social media and other apps. The still powerful and profitable cable and broadcasting industries come to Washington touting their commitments to localism and diversity but seeking to evade those promises, undercut their competitors, and consolidate at all costs. They want all of the benefits of dominating local media but none of the obligations.
“It’s been said that ‘what goes up, must come down.’ This is true for everything except your cable bill. It goes in only one direction: up and up some more.
“Cable prices have risen nearly three times faster than inflation for decades, and that’s still happening despite the advent of online video. Pay-TV customers are spending a fortune for channels they don’t want, gouged by hidden fees, and locked into bloated channel bundles and onerous contracts. Meanwhile, broadcasters’ retransmission-consent and political-advertising revenues have skyrocketed to record levels, too.
“But broadcasters aren’t reinvesting this influx of new money in local content or better journalism. Their revenues flow out of local communities and into the bank accounts of distant executives and investors. Years of runaway consolidation have pushed local owners out of the broadcast market, creating insurmountable barriers that shut out independent and diverse voices.
“When big broadcasters and giant cable companies fight over carriage and retransmission, when their disputes leave TV screens blacked out before the big game, there’s really no one to root for on either side.
“The winners in these disputes may vary, but the losers are always the same: the public.
“It doesn’t have to be this way. Congress should pass legislation allowing consumers to choose the channels they want to watch ‘à la carte.’
“It’s time to end below-the-line fees and other hidden charges — and require providers to show the actual total price in advertisements and bills.
“To boost competition and support viable online alternatives, we need policies like Net Neutrality that push ISPs to invest in big, open pipes rather than cooking up schemes to crush their competition.
“For broadcasters, we must put the brakes on runaway media consolidation. That starts with restoring local ownership limits, revoking the obsolete UHF discount and refusing to raise the national ownership cap. Better yet, we should lower that cap and divest stations to local owners, incentivizing the sale of licenses to women and people of color.
“Let’s consider even bolder ideas like taxing targeted online advertising to fund local news and civic tech.
“What’s clear, based on decades of evidence, is that a regulation-slashing race to the bottom won’t create the thriving marketplace we need. We should put the power, choices, and control back in the hands of people and local communities and empower them to connect, communicate and create.
“I look forward to answering your questions.”