FCC

Four States' AGs Ask FCC to Deny Sinclair-Tribune Merger

Or to wait to act until after UHF discount court challenge is resolved 11/03/2017 9:00 AM Eastern

Attorneys general from four states have teamed up to ask the FCC to block the merger of Sinclair and Tribune.

The states are Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The joint filing comes at the same time the Coalition to Save Local Media was urging all the state AGs to weigh in against the deal.

Related: Sinclair Foes Try to Enlist AGs in Pushback

The AGs' principal beef appears to be the size of the deal, which would create the largest TV station group in the country reaching more than 70% of the national audience.

Saying they are the chief consumer protection officers in their states, the AGs argued that the deal "fails to further the public interest by allowing for increased consolidation that will decrease consumer choices and voices in the marketplace."

Because the deal will reduce consumer choices and threatens the "diversity of voices," they said, the FCC should block it, or at the least postpone a decision until the U.S. Court of Appeals rules on Free Press's legal challenge to the FCC's reinstatement of the UHF discount.

The AGs say they are looking out for consumers and that the deal will exacerbate problems they already see through thousands of complaints about video, internet and telecommunications services, including allegations of high prices and poor service.

Under FCC chair Ajit Pai, the FCC reversed a decision by the previous Democratic majority and reinstated the discount, which allows Sinclair or any other broadcaster to count only half of the audience of its UHF TV stations toward the 39% national audience reach cap.

Pai, who has suggested the discount may indeed by outdated -- it dates from analog days, when UHF signals were weaker than VHF -- has said it needs to be considered in concert with the 39% cap, which is why he says it was restored. Critics say it was to pave the way for the Sinclair deal, but Pai has consistently indicated broadcasters need fewer ownership restrictions in a digital world of rampant video competition from online, cable, satellite and telcos.

The four AGs clearly disagreed.

"To ensure that consumers have access to a variety of content, services and stations, the commission should reject this order or, at a minimum, allow the D.C. Circuit to conclude its review...before considering the proposed application."

Initial briefs in that case were filed in September.

The FCC has actually been considering the application for 104 days now. It stopped its informal 180-day review shot clock two weeks ago to allow for further comment, with the new deadline Nov. 2, the date of the AG's filing.

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