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Lafayette Muni Files FCC Complaint Against ComCorp Over Retrans

A municipal cable system set to start up next year in Lafayette, La., has filed a complaint with federal regulators against broadcasters in its market, alleging they aren’t negotiating retransmission-consent deals in good faith and are demanding cash-only.

The Lafayette City-Parish Consolidated Government and the Lafayette Utilities System filed a 28-page complaint with the Federal Communications Commission against Communications Corp. of America, White Knight Broadcasting and the broadcasters’ agent and consultant, Nexstar Broadcasting veteran Duane Lammers.

LUS, which is set to launch a $110 million fiber-to-the-home video system in January, alleges that the broadcasters have: made a “take-it-or-leave-it” proposal regarding carriage of their stations; are refusing to consider anything but cash compensation; are trying to force the new cable system to carry a low-power station and an out-of-market station it “does not need or want” in order to get carriage of a local Fox affiliate with “must-have”; and are demanding “exorbitant” rates for the low power and out-of-market station.

Lammers denied LUS’s charges Tuesday, and said that ComCorp will respond to the allegations in its answer to the FCC.

In its complaint, LUS claims that ComCorp is threatening to withhold carriage of Fox affiliate KADN-TV if the new cable system doesn’t also carry KLAF, the broadcaster’s low-power station, and White Knight’s NBC affiliate WVLA-TV, in Baton Rouge, La.

ComCorp and White Knight emerged from a jointly administered Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding in October last year. 

LUS doesn’t want to carry the Baton Rouge station WLVA-TV, but claims it has been told by the broadcasters and their retransmission-consent agent, Lammers, that the start-up cable system has to carry it as well as KLAF in order to receive KADN-TV, and its Fox programming.

LUS claims that in an Aug. 14 e-mail, Lammers told it, “Cash is king. In addition, WLVA will be part of any deal on the same terms that you carry the other stations.”

The license fees that LUS offered to pay for the stations, and the fees that Lammers wants, were redacted from the FCC complaint.

LUS alleges that ComCorp has violated the FCC’s requirement that retransmission-consent deals be negotiated in good faith, and that parities can’t just make single, unilateral proposals.

On Oct. 14, LUS said that Lammers told it in a phone call again that would have to carry all three stations – KADN-TV, WVLA-TV and KLAF -- in order to get a retransmission-consent deal. 

In its complaint, LUS quoted Lammers as saying, “I have the leverage and will use it. You may or may not know who I am, but there are only two guys in the country that do what we do, and I am one of them. I have pulled stations off for up to 10-12 months in order to get an agreement.”

In an e-mail Tuesday, Lammers said, “We will respond to their misrepresentations within the context of our answer. It should be pretty clear what their intent was for the conference call, and it wasn’t to propose terms to reach an agreement.” 

The American Cable Association issued a press release Tuesday that cited several retransmission-consent related complaints that other small cable systems have filed against ComCorp and White Knight stations with the FCC.

“All year long the programmers and broadcasters have claimed that the marketplace works, and operators can purchase programming on a standalone basis; however, the evidence proving otherwise keeps mounting at the FCC,” ACA Matt Polka said in a statement.

“The commission could not ask for more clear evidence that corrective measures must be taken as part of the wholesale programming rulemaking,” Polka said. “LUS is only the latest in an increasing number of operators who, quite simply, cannot deal in this increasingly abusive climate and have turned to the FCC for help.  We have every confidence that under the chairman’s leadership, they will get it.”

In response, Lammers said, “Thousands of retransmission-consent agreements have been completed in markets across the country, including a couple of hundred by me. These agreements were completed without conflict, complaint, and with professionalism. The exception to the rule are the premeditated ambushes created by the ACA, which amount to nothing more than abuse of process. Our answers to these baseless complaints speak for themselves, and we are hopeful the commission will soon act on them.”