The Federal Communications Commission last week decided Cable One Inc. wasn’t playing by the rules, and could face a fine, for retransmitting a Tulsa, Okla. TV station into another market — one where it’s engaged in a 9-month-old dispute with a broadcaster.
In a setback for the Phoenix-based MSO, the FCC found that Cable One “apparently willfully violated” network-nonduplication rules by offering Tulsa NBC affiliate KJRH and its Peacock Network programming in the Joplin, Mo.-Pittsburg, Kan., market.
Federal network-nonduplication rules permit a TV station to bar a local cable system from carrying broadcast-network programming provided by an affiliate station licensed to a different market.
“In sum, it appears that Cable One impermissibly granted itself a waiver of the Commission’s rules,” the FCC said in an order from its Media Bureau last Tuesday.
The FCC also said it would hold a separate proceeding to determine whether or not to fine Cable One for the apparent violation.
Cable One officials declined comment.
Cable One was unable to get an FCC waiver of the nonduplication rules regarding its carriage of KJRH on systems in cities including Miami, Okla., which is in the Joplin market and where Cable One is battling Nexstar Broadcasting Inc. Cable One has carried KJRH there for more than 40 years.
“The FCC has rightfully reasserted the importance of local stations being able to protect their programming, as well as admonished Cable One for their unlawful behavior,” Nexstar chief operating officer Duane Lammers said.
As part of a retransmission-consent dispute with Nexstar, Cable One lost carriage of NBC affiliate KSNF, and its network programming like ER, and ABC affiliate KODE. By continuing to carry KJRH, the cable operator will still be able to offer NBC programming to its subscribers.
Under federal law, retransmission consent permits TV stations to negotiate terms of their carriage, such as compensation for their signals, with cable operators.
Even in advance of the waiver decision, on Sept. 21, Cable One began offering “the required protection,” according to the FCC, by blacking out the NBC programming on KJRH.
Both Cable One and Cox Communications Inc. have been in a standoff with Nexstar since Jan. 1, because the broadcaster wants a monthly 30-cent-per-subscriber payment to carry its stations.
The American Cable Association, a lobbying group representing small independent cable operators, has petitioned the FCC regarding the nonduplication rules. The ACA wants cable operators to be able to “shop around,” and even carry TV stations from other markets, if in-market stations demand some form of “consideration” in exchange for carriage of its signal.
“This is a perfect example of why the FCC needs to grant the ACA’s petition for rule-making because, frankly, in a market where there is no competition, this kind of price extortion exists,” ACA president Matt Polka said. “And who is the ultimate loser? Consumers are the ultimate losers.”
Polka claimed that if Nexstar was concerned about “localism” and local carriage for its stations, it wouldn’t be fighting Cable One.
Lammers disagreed. “Nexstar Broadcasting is the leading non-network producer of local news in television broadcasting,” he said. “The ACA should dedicate time and energy to helping their members develop mutually beneficial relationship with local broadcasters, as we provide their most important content.”