NAB to FCC: Summarily Dismiss Mediacom Petition

The National Association of Broadcasters has asked the FCC to dismiss cable operator Mediacom's petition to the FCC to open a rulemaking on retransmission consent. Among other things, Mediacom wants the commission to limit blackouts during negotiation impasses and scrap broadcast exclusivity rules that prevent the importation of comparable TV station programming into a local market.

In its petition, filed last month and first reported by B&C/Multichannel News, Mediacom also asked the FCC to limit blackouts, as well as claiming broadcasters had not done anything to expand the availability of their stations to viewers in their markets.

In its opposition to the Mediacom petition, NAB called Mediacom's proposals an "illegal and ill-advised interjection into the free marketplace between broadcasters and pay TV operators."

NAB took particular umbrage at the suggestion it was not serving its viewers. "Mediacom's bald assertion that 'the broadcast industry has not sought in any material way to expand the free availability of local television stations to in-market viewers' is perhaps the most egregious claim in a petition filled with them."

NAB said broadcasters have invested in expanding over-the-air service to fill in areas lost in the last DTV transition, but also said that future efforts to expand service areas are effectively frozen for the next few years until the FCC completes the next digital transition, the repack after the broadcast incentive auction. "So even broadcasters that want to expand their OTA service areas cannot do so until long after the incentive auction is completed." Then there was NAB's lawsuit challenging the way the FCC would calculate coverage areas in the auction, which broadcasters argued failed to preserve those coverage areas.

"Mediacom, a company that appears to make special effort to provide dismal customer service, has come to the Commission, hat in hand, asking yet again for the government’s help to grow its already hefty bottom line," NAB told the commission. "For a host of reasons, including the fact that its petition is based on a wholly false premise, the Commission should swiftly dismiss its plea..."

Mediacom specifically asked the FCC to amend its rules to condition a TV station license renewal on that station's guarantee that "it will not terminate an MVPD’s carriage of the station’s signal upon the expiration of a retransmission consent agreement if the station is not accessible via over-the-air reception or Internet streaming to at least 90 percent of the homes in its local market served by the MVPD."

NAB called that "little more than a cynical ploy to curry favorable governmental treatment to lower its costs and help its bottom line."

The trade suggested the FCC should have no trouble summarily dismissing the petition on a variety of grounds, saying it was "illegal, based on a demonstrably false premise and is far more likely to harm the public interest than promote it."

The NAB response came only a couple days after the FCC opened a rulemaking (separate from the Mediacom ask) on retrans negotiations, including blackouts and, also separately, proposed eliminating broadcast exclusivity rules.

The FCC is probably more likely to address Mediacom's requests as part of that just-launched congressionally mandated review of retransmission consent good faith negotiations rather than open a separate proceeding, since questions about blackouts and impasses are already teed up there.

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.