FCC: No Retrans Fixes by Proxy

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Washington — The Federal Communications Commission
has signaled that it won’t be reforming retransmission
consent by way of challenges to TV-station sales
that create opportunities
for stations to
collectively bargain
with cable providers.

Last week, it denied
Time Warner
Cable’s challenges of
a pair of station sales.
TWC had argued that
the sale of two ACME
stations in
Wisconsin and Ohio
to LIN Broadcasting were in the public interest.

The commission on April 8 approved the sale of
WCWF in Green Bay-Appleton, Wis., and WBDT in Dayton,
Ohio, both affiliates of The CW. LIN, the owner of
WDTN in Dayton, was already operating WBDT under
a shared-services agreement. WCWF was sold under a
failing-station waiver; LIN already owns WLUK-TV in
Green Bay-Appleton.

TWC had argued, in part, that the deals should not go
through because the resulting duopoly and combination
of ownership and management would give LIN too much
leverage in retransmission-consent agreements, since
LIN had signaled it planned to combine negotiations for
the paired stations. In addition, WCWF and WBDT had
previously been must-carry stations.

The FCC concluded that WCWF had met the FCC’s
defi nition of a failing station, and that bargaining collectively
for the station’s retransmission-consent payments
did not violate FCC rules. It also concluded that
the WBDT sale broke no FCC rules, and that TWC’s
claims of potential harm from the combined negotiation
were speculative.

“Despite its claims to the contrary, it is apparent that
TWC’s real concern is its desire for reformation of the
must-carry and retransmission-consent process,” the
agency said.

Time Warner Cable, along with others, has petitioned
the FCC to change its rules and forbid such negotiations,
but the regulator pointed out that it has yet to act on the
petition and that is where the issue must be resolved.

“There is no legal basis to impose the constraints that
TWC proposes on the stations in their retransmission consent
negotiations in the context of this proceeding,”
the FCC said.