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FCC Dismisses Allbritton Retrans Complaint Against Shentel

WASHINGTON: Regulators found no bad faith on the part of Shentel Telecom in retransmission negotiations with Allbritton. The Federal Communications Commission denied Allbritton’s petition against the rural Virginia cable operator on technical grounds. Allbritton, owner of WJLA in Washington, D.C., charged that Shentel dropped the station with insufficient notice and therefore violated the FCC’s good-faith negotiation rules.

“We agree with Shentel that violations of our notice rules are a separate issue from violations of our good faith negotiation rules,” the commission’s order said. With that, however, it issued a caveat to Shentel that, “if a station is deleted following the expiration of a retransmission consent agreement and the cable operator has not given the required 30-day notice, then the cable operator is in violation of the commission’s rules.”

Allbritton filed an Emergency Petition with the FCC in January charging Shenandoah County, Va., Shentel with bad faith negotiations. Bad faith constitutes refusal to: Negotiate, designate someone with binding authority, meet at reasonable times and locations, proffer a single, unilateral proposal execute a written agreement; failure to respond to a proposal and exclusivity.

Shentel dropped WJLA on New Year’s Eve with what Allbritton described as “insufficient notice.” The two companies had been negotiating in the months leading up to the black-out. By mid-December, Shentel said the station would be pulled on New Year’s Eve. Allbritton then reversed itself and agreed to accept a previous offer made by Shentel, but that the cable operator stopped communications and pulled the station. It was supposed to have given Allbritton 30 days notice, rather than just two weeks. Notice must be provided in writing to the broadcaster, and to subscribers.

Shentel responded that the offer Allbritton accepted was voided by initial rejections, and that “the alleged notice violations are not germane to a determination of good faith negotiations.” The FCC agreed, and declined to address the alleged notice violations without explanation. The order merely stated that the commission reserved the right to enforce novice violations “in its discretion.”
~ Deborah D. McAdams

January 19, 2012:
Bad Faith: Allbritton Pushes FCC on Retrans Ruling
A small retransmission dispute may end up redefining the legal definition of “faith,” both good and bad. WJLA-TV’s owners are pushing the Federal Communications Commission to declare that a rural Virginia cable company negotiated in “bad faith” when it dropped the ABC affiliate.

January 5, 2012:Allbritton Files Retrans Complaint Against Rural Virginia Cabler
Allbritton said Shentel sought a “heavy discount” from its standard rate because it also carries WHSV-TV, an out-of-market ABC affiliate. Shentel is said to have come in with an offer 25 cents below Allbritton’s normal ask. Allbritton came back with one 17 cents above that—the same, it said, as what Shentel was paying for Allbritton’s Lynchburg, Va., ABC affiliate, WSET-TV. The complaint says Shentel never formally rejected Allbritton’s offer, rescinded its own, nor “indicated that negotiations were at an impasse.”

June 28, 2011:Retransmission Replies Reflect Industry Schism
Regulators have a bit of a slog ahead when they comb through the reply comments on retransmission. Around 30 parties filed a total of 680 pages on the Federal Communications Commission proceeding in the last few days. A quick survey of the filings suggests more of the same: pay TV carriers want reform; broadcasters do not.

March 3, 2011:FCC Retrans Proposal Includes Elimination of Non-Dupe Rule
The five commissioners voted unanimously in favor of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking “to consider possible amendments” to current rules governing how TV stations and cable operators hammer out carriage agreements.