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ACA Calls For Disclosure Of Agreements For Coordinated Retrans Dealing

The American Cable Association, in reply comments filed on Jan. 17 with the Federal Communications Commission, said it supports public disclosure of any agreement, including Shared Services Agreements (SSAs), that would allow separately owned TV stations in the same local market to coordinate their retransmission consent negotiations with pay-television providers.

"ACA urges prompt action by the FCC because full disclosure of agreements that facilitate coordinated retransmission consent negotiations will serve the public interest by enabling regulatory and antitrust authorities to monitor the competitive effects of such agreements and detect violations of current FCC regulations and federal antitrust statutes," ACA President and CEO Matthew M. Polka said. "In this case, sunlight is truly the best disinfectant."

Over opposition from broadcasters, ACA is urging the FCC to compel TV stations to place in their online public files any agreement that facilitates coordinated negotiation of retransmission consent by separately owned television broadcast licensees in the same market. In dozens of markets across the country, broadcasters have coordinated their activities to gain significant bargaining leverage over pay-TV providers, and extract huge cash payments far in excess of what each station negotiating separately could achieve in exchange for cable carriage. Hamstrung by a lopsided regulatory regime that favors broadcasters, ACA members are forced to pay exorbitant rates, and these costs are ultimately passed along to the consumer.

In its reply comments, ACA dismissed broadcasters' objections to online disclosure as meritless, albeit entirely consistent with their overall efforts to keep hidden agreements that further their collusive price-gouging schemes to the detriment of millions of cable customers. ACA said the issue is ripe for resolution now, with the FCC authorized to monitor how broadcast licensees are discharging their existing obligations to utilize the radio spectrum in the public interest. Action now also will assist antitrust authorities in ensuring that broadcasters are not acting in an anticompetitive manner, ACA said.

"Broadcasters have failed to demonstrate any compelling reason why agreements that facilitate coordinated action in retransmission consent negotiations should not be included in the enhanced online public file," Polka said. "By requiring broadcasters to disclose agreements that impact competition in their enhanced online public files, the FCC can better fulfill its ongoing responsibility to ensure compliance with its existing broadcast ownership limits."

ACA noted that the online disclosure of agreements that facilitate the coordination of retransmission consent would be consistent with the policy rationale that requires broadcasters to disclose their Joint Sales and Time Brokerage Agreements in their public inspection file so that regulators and others may evaluate whether these agreements effectively undercut FCC ownership restrictions and competition policies. The FCC and antitrust authorities have already recognized the benefits of placing these agreements among same-market broadcasters in the stations' public inspection files.

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