In their annual trip to Washington DC, members of the New Hampshire Association of Broadcasters took to Capitol Hill to educate our Congressional delegation about ongoing issues facing radio and television broadcasters in the Granite State.
WMUR-TV General Manager Jeff Bartlett discussed retransmission consent negotiations and a larger update of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 with Senator Ayotte, Congressman Frank Guinta and Congresswoman Anne Kuster as well as Senator Shaheen’s telecommunications staffer Andrew Zabel.
The argument for staying the course on retransmission consent negotiations remains the same: More than 99% of retrans deals get done without service interruptions to viewers. Stations, like WMUR, are using this revenue to boost local programming. Hundreds of hours of news, public affairs programming, weather and emergency information is produced each year, in large part to retransmission dollars.
A new subject in 2015 was keeping broadcast stations on the basic cable tier. Senator John Thune (R-SD) initiated the conversation in 2014 under the term “Local Choice.” Under the plan, consumers would either pay a la carte for their broadcast stations or see the stations more to a more expensive cable tier. Our argument was simple. Congress required cable operators to offer local TV on the basic tier for a reason; local stations are vital to providing news, weather and emergency information to consumers.
For radio, Ray Garon of Manchester Radio Group and Mark Ericson from Townquare Media focused on a radio performance tax and updating the delegation about broadcasters role in emergency alerting. We continue to maintain that an additional fee from radio stations to the record labels (on top of paying for streaming rights and to composers) would be crippling for many radio stations across New Hampshire. We ask every year for the government to remain out of private, business to business negotiations between broadcasters and record labels.
H. Con. Res. 17 and S. Con. Res. 4 supporting the “Local Radio Freedom Act” have again been introduced. This non-binding legislation declares that Congress should not impose any new tax on radio stations. All four members of the New Hampshire delegation co-sponsored the legislation in 2014. At the time of our meeting only Congresswoman Kuster had signed on and we thanked her for her ongoing support of New Hampshire’s local radio stations. We continue our discussions with staffers in the other three offices.
Lastly we spoke briefly on reforms to the treatment of advertising deductibility. It has been widely rumored that tax reform would see a limiting of same-year tax deductions by 50% with the rest amortized over a five-year or 10-year period, making advertising more costly to businesses. Not only would these be devastating to radio and television stations, newspapers, digital marketing avenues and the like, it would also affect every business that advertises across the country. While major tax reform is a long and difficult process that we may not see before the 2016 elections, we will continue to be vigilant.
Our delegation will be on recess from March 30 through April 10. If any of them are visiting your station, please feel free to contact the NHAB for talking points about these important issues. Don’t waste the opportunity to be heard! We look forward to ensuring the future of our over-the-air television and radio members by continuing to educate and advocate on your behalf.