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Mediacom: FCC Is Effectively Siding With LIN

An attorney for Mediacom Tuesday said the FCC's inaction on its ongoing retrans impasse with LIN was tantamount to siding with the broadcaster against Mediacom and against consumers hurt by the signal blackout.

In a letter to FCC Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake, Mediacom Counsel Seth Davidson urged the commission to "reconsider its decision to sit on the sidelines in the face of prolonged blackouts in the smaller markets affected by LIN's strategy of holding consumers hostage in its effort to extract a triple-digit price increase."

Mediacom and LIN have not been able to agree on a new carriage deal for stations in Alabama, Florida, Indiana and North Carolina, and those stations were withdrawn as of the end of August.

Davidson says LIN has not responded to its latest, increased, offer. The FCC has been reluctant to get in the middle of what it says are marketplace negotiations, and what cable operators say is a system that favors broadcasters through exclusivity and must-carry rules. Davidson suggests the FCC's marching orders from Congress are clear. "On its face, it is ludicrous to assert that Congress deprived the Commission of the power to intervene if the marketplace unexpectedly operated in a way that actually harmed consumers by subjecting them to service interruptions and price increases," said Davidson. He says the FCC has the "authority and duty" to intervene.

The letter was also put in the comment docket for the FCC's rulemaking on proposed retrans reforms, which Mediacom petitioned for.

Davidson's letter follows one from Mediacom Chairman and CEO Rocco Commisso to the commission last week criticizing the agency for not stepping in.

A LIN spokesperson was not available for comment at press time, but it said in a statement when the impasse began that "we have tried hard to reach an agreement with Mediacom, so that our viewers would not have to miss any of our stations' around-the-clock reporting of news, politics, traffic, weather emergencies, public service announcements, and favorite local and national programming" and that it was "disappointed in the outcome of our negotiations, especially since we have successfully reached deals with every major cable, satellite and telecommunications company that recognizes our fair market value." It pledged to continue to negotiate.

The FCC has viewed its role in retrans disputes as limited to ensuring good faith negotiations, but has proposed making more explicit what that entails, as well as potentially waiving exclusivity rules so cable operators could seek deals with similar, out-of-market stations.