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NCTA Weighs In On Retrans Complaint Against Sinclair

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association has told the FCC that broadcasters jointly negotiating retransmission consent fees in a market as part of a local marketing agreement can raise those fees and harm consumers.

NCTA weighed in on the retransmission complaint and petition for emergency interim carriage rights filed against Sinclair Broadcasting by cable operator Mediacom. The cable trade group conceded it was unusual for it to weigh in on such complaints, but since the FCC asked for policy input rather than keeping the proceeding closed, as is usually the case, it would break with precedent.

"We agree with the Commission that there are policy matters raised in this case where our perspective may benefit the resolution of these issues," NCTA said.

Not only is Sinclair's combining of retrans rights of owned stations with non-owned stations in the market relevant to the complaint, said NCTA, but as a general practice, "to the extent that broadcast stations entering into LMA's are substitutes from the perspective of multichannel video providers, such joint negotiations eliminate competition and raise the stations' bragaining power, which will result in higher fees and consumer harm."

Getting back to specifics, NCTA said Sinclair's conduct with respect to Mediacom "seems to be a particularly egregious example of conduct that further unbalances the retransmission consent marketplace and aggregates broadcasters market power."

NCTA said the FCC must take a close look at the complaint about such a negotiation "if not prohibit such joint action entirely."

Mediacom wants the commission to require Sinclair to allow it to continue to carry the station signals while the complaint is pending. NCTA said the commission should take "whatever steps necessary" to avoid disrupting consumers, including the disruption of the loss of TV station programming via Mediacom.

The American Cable Association last week called for an investigation into LMAs.