Southern Brooklyn

The $4,000 Seat… In Front Of Your Home TV Set

Lewis A. Fidler

By Councilman Lew Fidler

There they go again. They big boys are fighting and you know who is going to pay the bill.

Hopefully, by the time you read this, Fox and Cablevision will have settled their dispute and returned control of channels 5 and 9 to the viewing audience. Until then, Cablevision subscribers will have to do without many of our favorite programs, not to mention Giants’ football, the National League Championship playoffs and—perish the thought—the World Series. But even if the media giants manage to settle, the bill will be passed on to the little guy—the consumer.

Some folks may be old enough to remember when our neighborhood movie theaters—wait, do you even remember neighborhood movie theaters?—all posted signs that read “Stop pay TV” on their marquis. The newly burgeoning cable TV system response was that “pay TV”, now known as cable TV, was for enhanced service. But the 1992 Cable TV Act changed all that when broadcast stations were permitted to seek “retransmission fees.”
What is a “retransmission fee”? That is the fee that broadcast stations seek from cable providers to permit them to air the exact same content that broadcast networks provide over free public air space. Before the 1992 Act, when cable was used more generally to provide TV programming to areas that could not receive clear air signals, broadcasters relied on the “must carry” provision of the law, allowing broadcasters to actually compel cable providers to carry their content. How the worm has turned!

So while Fox, and ABC/Disney before them, fight over how much they can get from cable providers like Cablevision and Time Warner, wasting money on newspaper ads sniping back and forth, who loses? The consumer, who is blacked out, used as a negotiating pawn and then ultimately pays the freight in higher cable bills.

History teaches us to learn its lessons. I commend your attention to the “free agency era” in pro sports like baseball. When free agency began, players’ salaries soared, and owners cringed. Nonetheless, the baseball barons and the players’ union figured out a way to protect each other. Players’ salaries have never been higher, and baseball ownership continues to be profitable…and for fans? We get the $4,000 a game box seat. Fans and consumers were not at the bargaining table.

We can’t let that happen here.

I have introduced a resolution in the NYC Council calling for an end to retransmission fees. Broadcasters like Fox and ABC operate over the public airwaves with a public license. Having seduced the majority of TV viewers off of the rabbit ears and onto the cable box, they should not be permitted to start to charge us for what was once free. They can make their money off of the advertising revenue as they did before. Use of public air waves is a public trust and a public benefit.

My colleague, Councilmember Dan Garodnick, has introduced a resolution asking Congress to require binding mediation for all cable stations – broadcast and non-broadcast alike – when negotiating cable fees. That plan would also keep those stations on the air while the negotiations continued, ending the game of using consumers as pawns.

Congress must act to end the insanity, to stop the programming interruptions and to protect the consumer, and it must act now. If they don’t, the next $4,000 box seat will be your seat in front of your TV set.

Council Member Lew Fidler (D-Brooklyn) is the Council’s Assistant Majority Leader.

Comment policy


  1. I hate Cablevision. Which is why I went from those monopolist Dolan Gang to Directv and now Verizon Fios. I can appreciate Councilman Fidler’s well-intentioned law. But the path to hell is paved with good intentions, and this is an example. A dispute like this should not involve city government. Except this should be put in the file when Cablevision wants to re-new it’s franchise.Also it annoys me Cablevison refuses to sell it’s HD MSG channels to it’s competition, but again, the government should not get involved. And as the Yankees, Mets, Giants and Jets are finding out, the $4000 front row seat is going unbought. The marketplace works; try it.And do it here by taking your business to one of Cablevision’s competitors.

    Further, may be Councilman Fidler would like to discuss the raising of bridge and tunnel tolls again when the bridges and tunnels are long paid for, even if you factor in long-term maintenance. And why the MTA is allowed to raid that money to waste.

  2. I remember the stop “Pay TV” campaign. Pay TV was supposed to be superior TV because there would be no commercials. That was the rationale for paying (not to have the commercials. So what do we get instead? Pay TV (i.e. cable TV) most with commercials anyway. And what happens to the free stations? The quality of programming severely declines, so that all we have to choose from are reality shows, sporting events, mostly unfunny comedies, three Law and Orders and CSIs, Saturday night repeats of Tuesday and Wednesdays broadcasts, and a few other shows. So for anything decent, you really are compelled to go to cable.

    And all you hear about cable are complaints about service and that the fees keep rising. When I went to school I was taught that monopolies are illegal. If so, why do we have only one cable company to choose from? Why did the politicians such as Mr. Fidler make it so that Cablevision cannot compete with Time Warner, so we could have some choice and perhaps better service from both? Why is this monopoly legal?

  3. Talk about protecting the consumer. Will folks who are holding on to the old TV’s get an emergency alert? Didn’t I hear that Bloomie gave the contracts to Cablevision (or was it Verizon) along with the upkeep of the fire alarm boxes? Which by the way are being fazed out by Bloombag.

  4. Cablevision is annoying, but this time it’s not their fault. Cablevision went to arbitration, but News Corps basically told them to “F*** off!” However people switching to the competitors of Cablevision fail to realize any of the networks can just as easily do the same to them as they have done to Cablevision.

  5. Broadcast television is still supposed to exist. Unfortunately, the transmission of over the air signals is far more problematic than it was when signals were analog. A number of people who bought converters for their analog equipment found that sooner or later they started having problems receiving a signal. I know someone that hasn’t been able to get a signal since July, her television works perfectly otherwise. This whole business seems like a conspiracy to force cable on everyone.If people can’t get a digital signal on their sets they I guess they can’t get an emergency signal either. So it best to keep a transistor radio and some batteries, so far radio has not gone digital.

  6. But seriously, I think that there would have been a mess if competing cable companies were running lines all over the place. In some places that sort of thing occurred in the early days of phone service.

  7. Meaning what? Do they remove the faulty boxes, take them to the fire house and fix them?And if that is so then I am guessing each fire house is responsible for the maintenance in the call area?

  8. This is why its always so much fun to put yourself out there on an issue. So, I stole your money, I set up the Cablevision monopoly, I am shilling for Cablevision….it’s almost funny.

    I assume the money reference is to the Campaign Finance Board….which incredibly is still reviewing my campaign’s response to their audit. It does not appear that they [the CFB] think I stole a penny. They seem to feel that I played by the rules and I still expect to be returning a significant amount of money when they conclude their process.

    I may have been in college or law school when the cable franchises were handed out in this City. Lisanne is absolutely correct that this was done—by others, not including Mike Bloomberg btw—so that the companies being granted the franchises had an incentive to pay for the wiring of our City. Right? Wrong? I’m not sure. but I didn’t do it.

    As to Cablevision, let’s just say I am not their favorite Councilman since introducing a resolution years ago arguing that their company—Madison Square Garden—should be stripped of its property tax exemption. I further argued that when the NHL owners locked the Rangers and the NHL out for an entire season, and therefore the Rangers failed to play their home games at MSG, that they had violated the terms of their property tax exemption.

    None of the usual blog commenter sniping really surprises me. However, I am shocked at the lack of support for the position that I am taking here. NO ONE is fighting for the abused consumer here. For months now, I have been trying to carry this fight forward in any way possible.

    So, I ask you, do any of you on the merits disagree that the broadcast networks—the ones with the public license to use the public airwaves—have a right to charge you for the same content just becuase you have to get it on a cable box now, rather than your TV antenna? Now that they have virtually destroyed your ability to get it that way?

    Lew from Brooklyn

    PS I am sure that there will be a bunch of snarky comments about the stuff not relevant to the contents of my op-ed. I am not intending to reply to any of it any further. I will however be happy to engage in a discussion of the isue: how do we protect consumers from an ever expanding cable bill….

  9. Lew, I may disagree with you on a great many other issues, but on this one I agree wholeheartedly. As a former media student who understands a bit more then your average consumer you’re 100% right.

    Local FTA Channels should be retransmitted via whatever source a consumer uses FOR FREE. If they want to charge Cablevision (or anyone else) for that content they should be providing us with feeds from other time zones increasing the variety of our programming. Wouldn’t it be great if we could tune into a Fox channel from Chicago, LA, Texas, Miami?

    It would also increase the DVR numbers for many TV shows. Since modern DVR’s can only record two channels at once it allows people to record the second airing of the show 3 hours later.

    Go get em Lew. Pass this law and get us our media back.

    P.S.: Another avenue Cablevision should consider is simply building a digital signal converter into their cable boxes with an additional input so people could connect their building antenna or own antenna directly to the box, the next time a company tries to pull this it wont mean much.

  10. If anything, you could argue that your best bet is to stay with Cablevision – after all, by the time you switch carriers this current dispute may be resolved. But, the carrier you’re switching to might have a dispute with FOX (or ABC/Disney, NBC, CBS, etc.) coming soon down the road and you’d only end up in the same situation. This problem isn’t unique to Cablevision – it can, and likely will, happen to Time Warner, Dish Network, and so on, too.

  11. I’m reluctant to join in here, but will anyway.

    1) I support Councilman Fidler’s efforts to end retransmission fees. Like Arthur, the over-the-air channels are using public airwaves, and should be able to reach customers via any outlet for free. As the councilman said, it’s a public trust. And personally, they should bring back some of the standards intended to ensure a public interest use (including equal time, more news and educational programming, and restrictions on cross-media ownership).

    2) To those that say City government should not be involved – the councilman is not proposing a law. The City has no jurisdiction here. He is asking the council to make a statement and recommendation to the federal government on behalf of the people of NYC. The fed is already well-entrenched in regulation of media ownership and operation, and the relaxing of those standards has created an untenable situation across the board.

    3) Councilman: “usual blog commenter sniping”? Really? Over one guy’s vague statement? Come on… at least it’s not Gerri– nevermind. 😉

  12. I may have to disagree here. I think the idea that the broadcast networks serve the public, and are licensed to use publicly owned airways and therefore should remain free is a valid one, no one could argue with that. Also, the idea that people should be forced to pay to view the broadcast networks is incorrect, they should always be available for free. But I dont see the connection between these two ideas that also involves the cable company. Here’s why:

    The FCC changed the broadcast signal from analog to digital not too long ago. The signal is still being broadcast, with the same hosehold reach as before, but in a format that is suddenly incompatible with a slightly older, standalone television, whereas before standalone televisions had total access to the analog signal. New TV’s may come with digital broadcast receivers built into them, but most people still have the TV’s they owned before the signal change took place.

    So now people who want to view broadcast channels have a choice, buy a newer set with a digital broadcast receiver and get the signal for free, buy a set top converter to use with their old TV and still get the signal for free, or get their signal from the cable company and pay for it. And also, its not valid to point to examples where people are in areas with poor digital reception, those would likely be the same people who had weak analog signals before the change.

    The cable companies invested in, built and own the network of cables that brings the signal into our homes. It seems logical based on other examples of public and private infrastructure ownership that owners are entitled to be paid by people for using the infrastructure.

    There are other options for people to be able to receive broadcast network signals for free without having to rely on a cable company. If a broadcast network makes a decision, that in addition to their over-the-air broadcasts they want to contract with a cable company to also carry the signal, then that cable company is entitled to be paid for it. It isnt the only way the signal exists – its still out there for free. The broadcaster is knocking on the cable company’s door, not the other way around.

    One other thing I agree with is our cable bills need to come down, but someone once said anger is not an argument.

  13. Over the air broadcasters are compensated by advertisers. Unfortunately so are a lot of cable content providers. I assume, however, that these program sources do not expect payment from cable companies, they need to be carried by them in order to generate revenue.

    I have no doubt that the big winners in the conversion to digital broadcasting were the cable companies. The percentage of homes carrying cable increased to the point where a significant numbers of viewers of broadcast band stations now do so through cable and satellite service providers. This of course means increased competition for an audience. So in return, partly as a means as exercising what little power they have left they seek increased compensation. After all, for about 60 years over the air network broadcasters were among the most powerful of American companies. And I’m quite sure that there are still some in the industry who remember those days fondly.

    The sad thing is that in twenty years there will likely be no more broadcast television at all. Which means that television shall be privilege, rather than the right which was one that for generations was presumed to be a protected one. The digitalization of broadcast television was one more nail in its coffin, as it took away the secondary reception areas for stations. The only way they can survive in any form at all is by being carried by cable services, and that is a pill that is a hard one for them to swallow.

  14. Your resolution, no matter how well-intentioned, has no real legal impact. Better to advise the Dolan gang this monopolist nonsense will not go unnoticed come renewal time and encourage and publicize that people can change providers to DirecTv, Dish, Verizon Fios and others. For years Cablevision treats their customers like dirt.

    Yanking Cablevision’s tax exemption is something we can all get behind. Thought the Jets’ West Side stadium was a bad idea, but Cablevision’s nonsense West Side proposal was dishonest crap. And Sheldon Silver carried Dolan’s water.

  15. Eitan, you wrote: “If a broadcast network makes a decision, that in addition to their over-the-air broadcasts they want to contract with a cable company to also carry the signal, then that cable company is entitled to be paid for it… The broadcaster is knocking on the cable company’s door, not the other way around.”

    That’s a reversal of what’s actually occurring… it’s not the cable company that is being paid, it’s the broadcast network that’s receiving the money (from the cable company). The networks are saying: ‘pay me for my network or I won’t let you carry it.’ And it’s a silly game because so much of the broadcast network’s revenue model is based on getting as many potential viewers as possible (to increase ad revenue).

    The problem then, is this: most of us don’t care if Cablevision has a few million dollars less in their pocket and FOX has a few million more, BUT… do you really think Cablevision will take that loss? No, they’ll pass it on to us. The end result is that (using Cablevision as an intermediary), FOX is making your cable bill increase – FOX is charging you for free TV.

    And for federally licensed TV stations, meant to be freely available, that’s just wrong.

  16. Just a note to say that I truly appreciate the substantive comments on the issue, even from those of you with a different point of view. This issue NEEDS to be discussed. The marketplace is an inadequate solution for consumers. Cablevision’s problem today becomes Time warner’s tomorrow and then DISHTV the next day. We can’t keep switching. It’s not like you are in a supermarket and just go buy the next different brand of detergent. Yes, its true that the City plays no direct role in this. I actually have a third resolution calling on all levels of government to hold hearings on the future of cable TV, to analyze the trends and make sure that we are going downt he approriate road to the future. The FCC needs to be a consumer protection agency as much as it is a licensing authority.

    Lew from Brooklyn

  17. It’s one thing to deny the ‘premium’ cable channels vs. the ones that can be had with an antenna/digital converter. For example, I’m fine if my TV service provider drops something that I would normally pay extra for. Dish lost MSG, so I get to save $5 from my monthly bill since there isn’t any local sports to watch. I figure that I will switch carriers if there was anything I was truly missing, but like BMB mentions, who says that the new carrier won’t have the same problems eventually.

  18. It seems to me that the cable providers can put an end to this squabbling over OTA networks by doing something very simple: direct their set-top box manufacturers to include a switch, so if no signal is coming in via cable for OTA channels, to switch to antenna automatically. That would obliterate any leverage the networks think they have, because consumers would no longer have to worry about getting up and playing with wires to get their networks. No?

  19. This is a short term fix that is not going to make a difference in 10-20 years. What everyone should focus on and try to understand how its going to work in the future it internet tv. Right now you have Google tv, Apple tv, Hulu, Netflix and im sure a few others. Streaming is the future either to tv or computer. So the questions should really be how much is it going to cost to use bandwidth. Read this from Mark Cuban owner of HDnet and the Dallas Mavricks.

  20. If you read what I said, I never accused you of setting up the cable monopoly. I said “politicians such as Lew Fidler.”

  21. An interesting thought. I will ask Cablevision about it. Though I suspect that in the absence of an aerial antenna that it would help everyone.


  22. We have a difference of opinion; the marketplace, in this case, changing providers, is exactly the remedy for everyone. I know it can be a total pain in the posterior, but the only way to hurt Dolan is ceasing to pay him. Or you can get rid of cable, uh, but no one is doing that. As Dylan says, you’re gonna have to serve somebody, in this case hopefully the least disreputable and most reasonable devil.

    You can get an HD over-the-air antenna, which for the time we had DirecTv was the only way to get OTA channels in HD. Not sure if that’s still the case.

    To follow up on LB’s post; your tv, your cell and your computer are going to become the same delivery system, and to some degree already are. Verizon Fios now offers certain channels streaming over the internet to your PC, Mac or laptop, and the “widgets’ feature offers any number of on line options like Facebook,Twitter, Weatherbug and many other apps. Dolan and Cablevison recognize that their days as a monopoly are numbered, only question is when his current customers get fed up enough to dump him. In the meantime he’d like to bleed us all.

    Even if we disagree, it’s appreciated that this has been so far a civil and informed exchange of viewpoints. And we all think James Dolan is a tool.

  23. I fail to understand why you keep laying the blame on Cablevision and the Dolans? They may be responsible for their fair of shit but in this particular situation they are right and we should be standing behind them. Cablevision is taking a stand to keep our bills from going up, it’s not like they would eat the cost.

  24. Cablevison has treated customers like shit forever.They couldn’t care less about your bill as long as you stay a customer and keep your account paid. When Cablevision received their south Brooklyn franchise, they refused to wire and install on blocks until they felt demand had become very high, so we didn’t get cable until well after everyone else, and often well after blocks were fully wired. Their customer service is from hell, NEVER having a live body working most nights which is when cable systems have problems. When Cablevision did the same thing with YES and MSG, embargoing programming over rights fees(way before they owned the Garden) they did not refund the money when the failed to settle the contract.There have been whole years when Cablevision systems did not show any Yankee, Ranger and Knick games. They continue to embargo HD broadcasts of MSG form other providers simply as a marketing ploy to discourage people from dumping them.Dolan fought the West Side stadium(admittedly a really bad idea) by pretending Cablevision would develop the property; said plan was dropped when the stadium failed.

    Isaiah Thomas.Would you like me to go on? Which is why everyone should dump Dolan.

  25. Just dumped cablevision and went to Verizon Fios this week. Service is awesome. Better then what I had expected. The HD quality on the tv is better then with cable. More channels and my internet is the true 15mb. Unlike cable which I had to share with the rest of the block. Best of all, got rid of the $145 cable bill just for internet and TV. Now I got all 3 for $85 a month… Screw You Cable! Everyone should switch.

  26. Usually for 1 year (for FIOS).

    I still have 1 year out of 2 with Cablevision, for $88/month for all 3 services. After that, it would heavily depend on what features you keep: Optimum Boost for Internet, IO Silver package and DVR for TV, etc.
    I intend to drop most of TV stuff, and my bill will be about $140/month for all 3 services.
    Then there is a discount of up to $20/month if you request a “Optimum Rewards” card, which itself is free.

    Of course, I can switch to FIOS for 1 year, and then back to cable (and then back to FIOS) – but it’s a real PITA to transfer a phone number, change modem, IP address, etc.

    And Verizon’s customer service, in my experience, is a lot worse than Cablevision’s. My old analog voice line still had a noise on it when I disconnected it – for more than a year Verizon could fix it. That’s after swapping my phone line with someone else’s TWICE in one year. I can continue…

  27. We’re gonna most likely transferring over, on both locations… Home and Work, the Business Fios is cheaper the Residential for some reason LOL ( Edit: for the Triple Play )

  28. What about the tax? The $88 per month doesn’t include tax does it?

    Advice: if you ever have a problem with Verizon regarding phone service (not internet) and you are not satisfied how they are treating you, call the Public Service Commission. They hate Verizon and Verizon is afraid of them. I complained to them last year and received a call from a Verizon executive who was the politest person I ever spoke with from a bureaucracy. She told me about an unadvertised plan that lowered my bill and gave me more service. This was after I received an ambiguous letter from them that my rates would be going up. She even gave me a direct number which I think I lost if I have any future problems.

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