Frontier to FCC: Gray Retrans Impasse Is About Value of Signal

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Frontier has told the FCC that its beef with Gray Television is over the value of the TV signal and that Gray's retransmission consent complaint against Frontier "lacks any basis in fact or law."

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Gray formally complained to the FCC that Frontier was not negotiating in good faith and did not give is customers "as soon as possible" notice of a potential blackout, both of which are required under FCC rules. 

The complaint asserted that Frontier appeared never to have intended to carry the stations after the contract expired Dec. 18. "Instead, it just strung Gray along for weeks making us believe progress was being made until informing Gray with less than an hour to go that Frontier’s negotiator actually had no authority to enter into an agreement on the terms she had most recently offered to us and in fact she could not agree to terms along the lines of any of the proposals she had made over the last several weeks."

If the lead negotiator had no power to negotiate, Frontier could hardly be negotiating in good faith, which would violate FCC rules.

Frontier begged to differ.

"The simple fact is that Frontier and Gray disagree over the value of Gray’s stations," the cable company said in its reply to the FCC complaint. "After 25 days of negotiation and three offers put forth by Frontier, any of which Gray could have accepted, Gray now cries foul because Frontier did not agree with the financial terms that Gray wanted to force on Frontier and its customers."

While Gray asserts that Frontier "removed Gray’s stations from its online channel guides several weeks before the agreement was due to expire," and possibly even before negotiations on a new carriage deal began, Frontier said that was not the case and that it did not update its "customer-facing" channel guides until after the agreement had expired. 

As frontier points out, the FCC has said that “disagreement over the rates, terms and conditions of retransmission consent – even fundamental disagreement – is not indicative of a lack of good faith.”

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As to notifying customers, Frontier said it complied with the FCC's updated service change notification order. The FCC back in September gave cable ops more flexibility in providing notice.

Under the FCC's previous rules, cable ops had to provide at least 30 days notice before a channel comes off if that change "is within the provider's control." The problem is that most disputes wind up being resolved in that 30-day window, so the notifications wind up being for takedowns that never happen. "[W]e don't want consumers to be inundated by premature and inaccurate notices about channel changes that never come to pass," FCC chair Ajit Pai said of the need for the change. 

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.