Comcast has joined Mediacom Communications in asking the Federal Communications Commission to look into whether Sinclair is violating the agency’s “good faith” bargaining rules by negotiating retransmission consent for both the stations it owns and the ones it controls under local marketing agreements in the same markets.
Comcast’s filing supports an emergency petition by Mediacom that the commission should make that determination, particularly with respect to negotiations for KGAN-TV and KFXA-TV in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Comcast said in comments supporting Mediacom’s complaint against Sinclair that “there are substantial questions as to the propriety of local broadcast stations using LMAs or similar arrangements to negotiate jointly retransmission consent agreements in a particular market.”
Comcast said as far as it knows neither Congress nor the FCC have treated LMAs as conferring the right to negotiate retransmission deals. The Philadelphia-based MSO said antitrust law requires retransmission rights to be exercised individually and that collusion among stations results in the extraction of more favorable terms from cable operators.
“The commission should consider in this proceeding whether the joint exercise of retransmission-consent rights under the Sinclair LMAs and other arrangements are resulting in similar public-interest harms and are contrary to the statutory and regulatory requirement that retransmission-consent negotiations be conducted in good faith,” Comcast wrote.
FCC rules are not specific on what constitutes bad faith negotiations: those are up to the FCC to determine.
One veteran broadcast attorney said there are many LMA retransmission arrangements similar to those in Cedar Rapids and that, in a case several years back involving a Cleveland LMA, the Justice Department investigated and essentially concluded it was pro-competitive. “It is not clear to me that there would be anything wrong with what people have been doing for quite sometime with LMAs and similar situations,” the attorney said.