Mediacom: FCC Pushing Parties For New Year's Retrans Resolution

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At press time, the Federal Communications Commission was still pushing Sinclair and Mediacom to resolve their retrans fight as the Dec. 31 deadline for TV stations potentially being pulled from Mediacom cable systems drew closer.

According to Mediacom vice president, legal and public affairs Tom Larsen, the pushing was coming from both the Media Bureau and chairman's office: "We've been asked to give a daily update to large numbers of people in the bureau and the chairman's office."

The upshot of those e-mails and phone calls: No movement. "We've talked and presented offers and they have not accepted those," said Larsen.

At the FCC's urging, said Larsen, the two sides brought in an outside arbitrator Monday, but that didn't work. Larsen says the two sides are still talking, however.

With viewers/constituents potentially losing cable access to college football games on those stations, Capitol Hill and the FCC have both been pressuring the parties to come to a deal or at least an interim agreement that would keep the stations on during the negotiations and past the Dec. 31 deadline.

The president of the University of Iowa -- whose Hawkeyes are playing the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the Orange Bowl --  also sent a letter urging the parties to resolve the dispute, according to Larsen.

Mediacom asked the FCC to step in and force that interim carriage, but the commission has not acted on that emergency request -- filed a couple of months ago -- and is unlikely to step in say various sources, who point out it has not done so in the past when stations were dropped during retrans fights.

Larsen said Mediacom has a standing offer to accept a 90-day extension during which it would pay -- temporarily --the Sinclair asking price that is the current bone of contention.

"We've been aggressively been trying to get a deal done," said Larsen, "and we have been encouraged by the FCC to do that. Today, we feel we have done everthing the FCC has asked us to do in terms of trying to move the needle here to get something done."

A Sinclair official had not returned a call at press time, but in a letter to Mediacom CEO Rocco Commisso last week, Sinclair CEO David Smith said that the company was not interested in a 90-day extension, though he would agree to a one-year extension at Sinclair's current asking price.

"[I]f you are truly interested in the public interest," said Smith, "you should agree to pay such amount for the remained of 2010."

Smith argued that a 90-day extension would shift leverage to Mediacom since it would take the deadline past the time of more popular programming -- that would include college and pro football playoff and championship games, the kind of programming the FCC recognizes as must-have.

He also pointed out that if the contract cannot be renegotiated before Jan. 1, cable viewers can still watch the games over the air, or on DirecTV or Dish Network.

"We understand Mediacom's interest in retaining its paying subscribers," he wrote Commisso, "but contrary to the inference in your letter, the citizens of Iowa (and elsewhere) can watch the Orange Bowl (and other great programming we carry) without Mediacom."

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