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ACA to Pai: Blackouts Are Bad-Faith Bargaining Tactics

The American Cable Association wrote FCC chair Ajit Pai Tuesday (Oct. 3) to ask him to add retrans blackouts to the list of off-limits bad-faith bargaining.

The FCC has rules that require bargaining in good faith, but under Democratic chair Tom Wheeler, it chose not to add blackouts to that list when asked by the ACA and others to do so.

It is unlikely that Pai will go where a Democratic predecessor did not, but ACA cited Lilly Broadcasting's brief blackout on Dish in a Hurricane Maria-affected market as the kind of "intolerable" situation that needed FCC remedy, as well as pointing to Pai's concerns about that blackout.

ACA president Matt Polka, in his letter to Pai asking for blackouts to be dubbed bad faith, cited stories in Multichannel News and B&C about Pai contacting both Lilly and Dish -- after which the service to affected areas was restored while the two sides continued to try to come up with a new agreement.

"We were heartened to learn that, at least in part because of your intervention, the parties have agreed to restore some — but not all — of the broadcaster’s programming," wrote Polka. "I write on behalf of the American Cable Association to urge the commission to consider acting to prevent this from happening again."

The ACA wants the FCC to open a proceeding and seek comment on changing the rule to prevent blackouts.