Mediacom Asks FCC For Retrans Help
Operator Says Sinclair Battle Brewing
Mike Reynolds 10/25/2009 3:28:04 PM
Mediacom Communications is back in battle formation against Sinclair Broadcast Group, claiming in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission that the broadcaster -- the source of a heated retransmission consent battle in 2006 -- is attempting to gouge the cable company with higher fees.
Mediacom and Sinclair engaged in a heated battle in late 2006, after the broadcaster pulled its signal from Mediacom systems with about 700,000 subscribers in Iowa. That represented more than half of Mediacom's 1.3 million total customers and threatened to cripple the company.
Mediacom settled the dispute in February, 2007, after chairman and CEO Rocco Commisso said he realized he would get no relief from the FCC. On its fourth-quarter conference call with analysts shortly after settling with Sinclair, Mediacom said it lost about 7,000 subscribers as a result of the dispute.
"At the end of the day, we caved into their demands," Commisso said of Sinclair on that 2007 conference call.
While no terms were released, it was speculated that Mediacom agreed to pay a retrans fee of about 50 cents per subscriber per month.
According to documents filed with the FCC on Oct. 22, that deal is scheduled to expire on Dec. 31, and despite Mediacom's attempt to negotiate a new deal, the MSO claims that Sinclair is setting the stage for another battle.
Mediacom began negotiations with Sinclair on a new retrans deal in April, according to the filing.
"Sadly, after more than five months, it is clear that Sinclair, emboldened by its success in its previous dispute with Mediacom, is not interested in working out a reasonable agreement reflecting competitive market considerations," Mediacom wrote in the filing. "Instead, Sinclair has only begun going through the motions, trying to do just enough to avoid a per se violation of its good faith negotiation obligations while simultaneously demanding exorbitant increases in what it charges Mediacom for retransmission consent."
Mediacom is asking for interim relief -- a ruling from the FCC that allows it to continue carrying the Sinclair stations as it negotiates -- and permanent relief in the form of an order from the agency requiring Sinclair to offer a fair rate based on those the MSO has paid to other broadcasters, or directing both parties to solve their disagreements through binding arbitration.