Four AGs Ask FCC To Deny Sinclair-Tribune Merger

Attorneys general from four states have teamed up to ask the FCC to block the merger of Sinclair and Tribune.

The states are Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The joint filing comes at the same time the Coalition to Save Local Media was urging all the state AG's to weigh in against the deal.

The AGs principal beef appears to be the size of the deal, which would create the largest TV station group in the country reaching over 70% of the national audience.

Saying they are the chief consumer protection officers in their states, the AGs argue that the deal "fails to further the public interest by allowing for increased consolidation that will decrease consumer choices and voices in the marketplace."

Because the deal will reduce consumer choices and threatens the "diversity of voices," they say, the FCC should block it, or at the least postpone a decision until the U.S. Court of Appeals rules on Free Press's legal challenge to the FCC's reinstatement of the UHF discount.

The AGs say they are looking out for consumers and that the deal will exacerbate problems they already see through thousands of complaints about video, internet and telecommunications services, including allegations of high prices and poor service.

Related: Rosenworcel Raising Ruckus Over Net Neutrality

Under FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC reversed a decision by the previous Democratic majority and reinstated the discount, which allows Sinclair or any other broadcaster, to count only one half of the audience of their UHF TV stations toward the 39% national audience reach cap.

Pai, who has suggested the discount may indeed by outdated--it dates from analog days, when UHF signals were weaker than VHF--has said it needs to be considered in concert with the 39% cap, which is why he says it was restored. Critics say it was to pave the way for the Sinclair deal, but Pai has consistently indicated broadcasters need fewer ownership restrictions in a digital world of rampant video competition from online, cable, satellite and telcos.

The four AGs clearly disagree.

"To ensure that consumers have access to a variety of content, services and stations, the commission should reject this order or, at a minimum, allow the D.C. Circuit to conclude its review...before considering the proposed application."

Initial briefs in that case were filed in September.

The FCC has actually been considering the application for 104 days now. It stopped its informal 180-day review shot clock two weeks ago to allow for further comment, with the new deadline Nov. 2, the date of the AG's filing.

John Eggerton

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.