Gray Refuses To Grant Retransmission Consent For Station Within Its Local Market
For Immediate Release
Contact: Ted Hearn
PITTSBURGH, June 25, 2019 – In comments filed yesterday, ACA Connects urged the Federal Communications Commission to grant a retransmission consent complaint filed by its member C Spire against Gray Television. It argued that Gray violated the law by refusing to negotiate retransmission consent (or permit others to negotiate such consent) for a Mississippi station on one of C Spire’s local and in-state systems. This refusal, argued ACA Connects, both invalidated the “market modification” rules mandated by Congress and violated the FCC’s “good faith negotiation” rules.
ACA Connects President and CEO Matt Polka stated: “C Spire’s complaint raises issues that matter to many ACA Connects members. Broadcast networks routinely prevent our members from delivering nearby, local and in-state stations unless they also carry faraway out-of-state stations. This is unfair to consumers. It also reveals the broadcasters’ oft-repeated claims about localism to be something of a sham.”
The case involves C Spire’s cable system in Diamondhead, a city in a southeastern county of Mississippi which does not receive adequate in-state local programming because the county is included in a Designated Market Area (DMA) with stations that are primarily located in Louisiana. Thus, viewers in this area receive New Orleans news, weather, and sports rather than in-state programming from Biloxi, Miss., which is closer to Diamondhead than the in-DMA New Orleans stations.
Diamondhead, in other words, lies in an “orphan county.” In 2014, Congress directed the FCC to address this problem through the market-modification process, which permits the FCC to modify the market of a station to reflect the realities of which communities it serves. In the case of Diamondhead, the FCC has done so. It found that “Hancock County, within which Diamondhead is located, is an orphan county with insufficient access to in-state programming.” As a result, the FCC declared that it was expanding the local market of WLOX to include Diamondhead.
Gray, however, refuses to grant (or permit others to grant) retransmission consent for WLOX’s broadcast stream that airs CBS programming to C Spire’s Diamondhead system. It claims that it has entered a network-affiliation agreement with CBS that prohibits Gray from granting retransmission consent of a station to an in-state MVPD in an area where the station has long been significantly viewed and (thanks to a market modification) is now located in the station’s own local market. CBS will not waive that provision unless the MVPD also carries a duplicative, out-of-state station from further away. Gray, in other words, has essentially contracted away the station’s ability to negotiate (or have another negotiate on its behalf) in good faith as required by the FCC’s rules.
ACA Connects’ Polka stated that Gray’s conduct “makes a mockery of the market-modification process that Congress promulgated to promote the availability of local, in-state news.”
Polka added that this conduct “also violates the good-faith negotiation rules, which do not permit networks to preclude the negotiation of retransmission consent in their affiliates’ own markets — regardless of what other role networks may legitimately play in retransmission consent negotiations.”
He added: “We believe the existing rules are clear on this point and that the FCC should simply grant C Spire’s complaint, but if the FCC sees ambiguity here that we do not, it should grant C Spire’s accompanying petition for declaratory ruling.”
About ACA Connects: America’s Communications Association – Based in Pittsburgh, ACA Connects is a trade organization representing more than 700 smaller and medium-sized, independent companies that provide broadband, phone and video services to nearly 8 million customers primarily located in rural and smaller suburban markets across America. Through active participation in the regulatory and legislative process in Washington, D.C., ACA Connects’ members work together to advance the interests of their customers and ensure the future competitiveness and viability of their business. For more information, visit: https://acaconnects.org