PITTSBURGH, PA, September 25, 2008 - A pattern is emerging as a growing number of retransmission consent complaints, petitions for declaratory rulings, and requests for stays are filed at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by small cable operators across the country seeking assistance from the disturbing abuse of broadcasters in carriage negotiations.
The filings, submitted by independent operators, validate the American Cable Association's (ACA) long-standing claims that broadcasters have unrestrained market power over small operators that is derived from federal laws and regulations, and they exploit their supremacy by acting in bad faith in their negotiations.
"It's an open industry secret that retransmission consent negotiations among broadcasters and small, independent cable operators more resemble an episode of The Sopranos than they do a business negotiation in a free market," said Matt Polka, ACA's President and CEO. "Rather than allow the broadcasters to call open season on our nation's small cable businesses, many of whom are the only providers connecting small town America to the digital world, the FCC must step in and act on these complaints promptly before more damage is done."
One of the most egregious complaints of the latest round was filed by a small Louisiana operator, Trust Cable TV, whose systems and service areas were hammered when Hurricane Gustav ripped through the region earlier this month. During the emergency, a representative from broadcasters WGMB and WVLA slapped Trust with a take-it-or-leave-it retransmission offer, then rescinded the offer on a few hours notice. The stations' conduct is in clear disregard of the FCC's good faith negotiation obligations. Trust has asked the FCC for an emergency stay preventing the broadcast station owners from pulling its signals until Trust can fully recover from the storm and the proceeding concludes. WGMB is controlled by Communications Corp. of America and WVLA is owned by White Knight Holdings.
"We've been stretched to the breaking point trying to assess the damage in our service areas and restore communications to our customers as quickly as humanly possible," said Steven Inzinna of Trust Cable TV. "None of our subscribers or the community would believe us if we told them we had to pull these local broadcast signals because of a contract dispute. Their immediate demand and the timing were ill-fated, especially having to remove channels that provide vital news and emergency alert information during the midst of hurricane season."
Joining Trust Cable in filing formal complaints at the Commission are Baja Broadband and Paul Bunyan Telephone Cooperative, which document similar violations of the FCC's obligations for good faith negotiations. Baja's complaint is against El Paso station KTSM, also controlled by Communications Corp of America. Paul Bunyan's complaint is against a Granite Broadcasting stations KRII and KBJR and Malara Broadcasting station KDLH. Both of the complaints describe "take it or leave it" refusals to deal and other abuses of market power. Each of the complaints requests the Commission to grant a stay preventing the broadcasters from pulling their signals during the pendency of the complaints.
"Small cable operators are not asking for anything other than the opportunity to fairly negotiate, and for the FCC to enforce its long-standing obligation for good faith negotiations on the part of all parties," concluded Polka. "I'd ask anyone to show me how that is not clearly in the public interest."
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About the American Cable Association
Based in Pittsburgh, the American Cable Association is a trade organization representing 1,100 smaller and medium-sized, independent cable companies who provide broadband services for more than 7.5 million cable subscribers primarily located in rural and smaller suburban markets across America. Through active participation in the regulatory and legislative process in Washington, D.C., ACA's members work together to advance the interests of their customers and ensure the future competitiveness and viability of their business. For more information, visit www.americancable.org.
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