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Broadcasters Want FCC to Lift Retrans Fines

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(Image credit: John Lund via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON—The group of broadcasters that were fined by the FCC for failure to negotiate retransmission consent in good faith—the first instance of a fine being levied on that basis—continue to fight the historic charge.

In September, the FCC voted to deny an appeal that eight station groups failed to negotiate in good faith on retransmission consent with AT&T. The fine covered 18 stations in total, with each charged more than $500,000, bringing the total fine to more than $10 million.

Now, the station groups have jointly filed a response to the FCC, claiming that the commission erred in its decision and cannot impose the fines.

The station groups consist of Deerfield Media, GoCom Media, Howard Stirk Holdings, HSH, Mercury Broadcasting, MPS Media, KMTR Television, Second Generation of Iowa and Watt Broadcasting. One of the groups’ main arguments is that AT&T attempted to make the process of joint negotiations with these stations, which they point out is allowed by the FCC, prohibitively difficult and that ultimately led to the crux of AT&T’s arguments for why the groups had failed to negotiate in good faith.

“AT&T has attempted for years to persuade the commission to prohibit joint negotiations, but those efforts have been unsuccessful,” the comments read. “So when defendants sought in 2019 to jointly negotiate renewals of the 2016 agreements, AT&T tried to stymie their efforts.”

For its part, AT&T pointed out in its original complaint that all the stations involved were "managed and controlled by Sinclair Broadcast Group through some type of shared services agreement." In December 2019, the FCC's Media Bureau found that the stations had failed to negotiate in good faith with DirecTV and U-Verse (AT&T). The FCC said in granting the complaint that the stations had unreasonably delayed negotiations, including by not responding to AT&T proposals.

The station groups’ joint comments also address the severity of the fines, saying that the more than $500,000 fine for each station is “grossly excessive” and should instead be reduced to $25,000 per station. In an individual filing, Mercury Broadcasting argued for this reduction since it only owns a single station involved in these negotiations and has “demonstrated inability to pay and history of past compliance.”

The FCC says that it originally fined the stations the $10 million total amount because of the harm that each station going dark had on viewers.

The maximum fines had bipartisan support among the FCC commissioners, with Michael O’Rielly and Geoffrey Starks both voicing their support.