—A Texas cable operator has been fined $2.25 million for
violating retransmission consent rules. The Federal Communications Commission
issued the Forfeiture Order this week to TV Max of Houston for “willfully and
repeatedly” violating Section 325 of the Communications Act “by retransmitting
the signals of six Houston, Texas area full-power commercial television
broadcast stations without ‘the express authority’ of the originating stations.”
The six stations involved include ABC affiliate KTRK-TV, NBC affiliate KPRC-TV,
MyNetwork affiliate KTXH-TV and Fox O&O KRIV-TV in Houston; Univision
affiliate KXLN-DT in Rosenberg, Texas; and UniMás affiliate KFTH-DT in Alvin.
TV Max serves around 10,000 subscribers in 245 apartment buildings the Houston
designated market area.
TV Max had retrans deals in place with the stations that expired between the
end of 2011 and March, 2012, according to the order, “after which TV Max
continued to retransmit the signals of the stations without extending or renewing
the agreements. Each of the licensees notified TV Max that such retransmission
without its consent was illegal and demanded that it cease and, after TV Max
ignored these demands and continued retransmitting the Stations, each filed a
complaint with the commission.”
The commission notified TV Max it was in violation of retrans law via a letter
sent in December of 2012.
“Nevertheless, TV Max continued its rebroadcast of the Stations, using the spin-off
of its Houston cable operations and fiber network to two related companies
under its common ownership and control in an apparent effort to evade
responsibility for its unlawful actions, which continued,” the order states.
The commission then sent TV Max a Notice of Apparent Liability—essentially a
notification that the FCC would level a fine unless TV Max ceased
retransmitting the stations and explained itself sufficiently. The NAL in the
amount of $2.25 million was issued in June of 2013.
TV Max didn’t deny that it was retransmitting stations without a license, but
said that it was doing so under the FCC’s master antenna television exception.
It had, however, been retransmitting from its headend before installing master
antennas at the apartment buildings it served.
TV Max said it had “hoped to complete the installations before the first of the
retransmission consent agreements expired on Dec. 31, 2011,” but fewer than
half of its half of its 245 buildings had been outfitted with MATVs by Jan. 1, 2012.
As of mid-July that year, 19 buildings were still served by the headend, and
even after the installations were complete, Max TV acknowledged that it
continued to deliver the signals via its headend fiber ring.
The commission’s base fine for the violations would have resulted in a $16.425
million forfeiture, but was adjusted downward based on TV Max’s “relative small
size and limited operations.” The FO is available at: /portals/0/TV Max FO.pdf