Mediacom agrees to binding arbitration in retransmission dispute

Mediacom agreed last week to submit to binding arbitration as a means of settling its ongoing retransmission consent dispute with Sinclair Broadcast Group.

In its latest proposal to Sinclair, Mediacom would accept final binding arbitration before the FCC Media Bureau under established procedures for arbitrating retransmission consent disputes previously adopted by the FCC in the News Corp./DirecTV order published on Jan. 14, 2004.

Mediacom’s offer is consistent with the strong recommendation made by the Media Bureau in its recent order dated Jan. 12, 2007.

If both parties agree to final binding arbitration by the FCC staff, the Media Bureau said it would require Sinclair to authorize Mediacom’s continued carriage of its stations’ signals, pending arbitration and pursuant to the terms of the Nov. 30, 2006, agreement between the parties, or pursuant to the per subscriber daily rate as proposed by Sinclair to Mediacom on Jan. 11, 2007.

Although members of Congress have joined in requesting binding arbitration to resolve the dispute, Sinclair has so far refused. As of Jan. 6, 2004, Sinclair stations in 16 markets went dark on Mediacom’s system, affecting some 700,000 Mediacom subscribers.

Sinclair is elevating the profile of the retransmission issue. Sinclair noted that there are now many alternative ways the public can continue to view its stations, including free, over-the-air transmission and carriage by Mediacom’s competitors such as DirecTV and the DISH Network, and in parts of Cedar Rapids, IA, cable operator McLeod USA.

Iowa, a major Mediacom market, was hit hardest by the turnoff. Last week, the "Iowa View" newspaper reported that Sinclair was about to apply its Mediacom strategy to Comcast cable systems by pulling the plug on 30 stations in 23 Comcast cable markets as of Feb. 5. If it does, the Sinclair-Comcast feud could affect an estimated 3 million subscribers. As it did in Mediacom, Sinclair is demanding that Comcast pay cash for its programs.