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FCC Approves KTKA Transfer

The FCC has granted the assignment of license of KTKA-TV Topeka, Kan., from Free State Communications to PBC Broadcasting and rejected a petition to deny the deal and saying the deal was in the public interest and the applicants fully qualified to hold their licenses.

The American Cable Association had petitioned to deny the sale, saying it created a virtual triopoly that was not in the public interest, particularly by consolidating potential retrans negotiation muscle in the market.

ACA had argued that because Topeka's NBC affiliate and FOX affiliate were owned by New Vision Television, which has shared services agreements with PBC Broadcasting in Youngstown, Ohio, and Savannah, Ga., it was concerned that the sale would create a "virtual triopoly" in Topeka and "coordinate" retransmission negotiations for three of the Big four affiliates.

PBS had countered that ACA was raising broad policy issues appropriately addressed elsewhere. The FCC appeared to agree.

"ACA contends that, upon grant of the application, there is a significant likelihood that PBC will coordinate negotiation of its retransmission consent agreements with the licensee of other network-affiliated stations in the market, in contravention of the public interest," the Media Bureau said in a letter to the lawyers of the stations and ACA. "For the reasons stated below, we deny the petition and grant the application."

Those reasons, said the FCC, were that ACA's petition was asking it to rule on whether "the joint negotiation of retransmission consent agreements by broadcast television licensees in the same market harms cable operators by reducing their bargaining power," which it said was an issue squarely before the commission in the retransmission consent proceeding. 

"We will not address here the substance of the Retransmission Consent Proceeding, and we decline to reach a decision that would effectively pre-judge the outcome of a pending rulemaking in favor of one of the parties that petitioned to commence it," said the Bureau.

ACA is a member of the American Television Alliance, a coalition of cable ops, satellite companies, telcos, and others whose petition prompted the retrans proceeding.

ACA President Matthew Polka was not happy. "That the FCC has given a government green light to a private company bent on using the public airwaves to engage in collusive behavior is an affront to all Americans, who expect the FCC to protect consumers and competition," he said in a statement. "The FCC said the deal will serve the public interest, but the FCC did not explain how the deal is in the public interest, and the buyer of the station never even provided evidence in its filings to support a public interest claim."