ACA, Others Defend Petitions to Deny Sinclair Deal

The American Cable Association told the FCC Friday that allowing coordinated retrans negotiations are a transition specific harm and the FCC should grant its petition to deny Sinclair's purchase of Allbritton stations in Harrisburg, Pa., and Charleston, S.C., or condition their sale and subsequent spin-off by disallowing coordinated negotiation. Also filing responses to Sinclair's opposition to their petitions to deny were Rainbow PUSH Coalition (RPC) and Free Press.

The defenses of the petitions were actually due earlier in the month but were delayed due to the government shut-down.

As part of its deal to buy all the Allbritton stations, Sinclair is spinning stations off in those markets to a third party but will provide support services to them including acting as the station's agent in retrans, according to ACA.

ACA says the result will be a transition-specific harm. "This practice reduces competition between broadcast stations with regard to the sale of retransmission consent, and consumers are harmed when cable operators pass through the higher fees derived from the coordinated negotiations."

Free Press says it has provided clear evidence that Sinclair is trying to control two stations in Charleston and Harrisburg "in violation of local ownership rules."

RPC cited a Wall Street Journal story about the relationship between Sinclair and Cunningham and a Free Press report on how Sinclair owns all the non-license assets of stations it already operates under LMAs and SSAs. "Sinclair suggests that because the misconduct complained of by RPC has gone on for so many years, RPC should simply 'move on from disagreements that took place with Sinclair a decade ago,' said RPC, "but nothing in the record suggests that Sinclair has suddenly, without telling anyone, liberated Cunningham from its control, or reformed even one of the multiple indicia of control that RPC pointed to in its still-unadjudicated 2002 and 2003 petitions to deny."

Sinclair argued in its opposition to that petition that ACA's petition should be dismissed because it was without merit, that Free Press' petition should be dismissed because the deal complies with all FCC rules, and Rainbow Push's petition should be denied because it was a "stale rehash" of unrelated issues.

Of the unrelated claim, RPC says: "Through its control of Cunningham itself one of the nation's largest (putative) major market licensees Sinclair has seized the national market power that has enabled it to pursue transactions such as the Allbritton acquisition and enter lucrative markets like Washington, D.C.

The Justice Department has asked for more information on the Sinclair deal as part of its review of antitrust issues.

The FCC under chairman Julius Genachowski considered making some TV station joint sales agreements among stations attributable under the local ownership rules — as are some radio station JSAs — as part of the FCC's periodic review of its media ownership rules but did not take any action. Sinclair has argued that rulemaking proceedings are the proper place for such consideration, not petitions to deny or condition a deal.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.