Senators call for FCC to end Mediacom-Sinclair dispute

The heat is rising on the Medicom-Sinclair stalemate. Last week, several Senate leaders demanded that the FCC step in and resolve the conflict.

So far, an impasse remains between Mediacom Communications, a cable operator, and Sinclair Broadcast Group, the owner of 22 stations in Mediacom's 13-state coverage area.

Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), the ranking Republican, urged the action in a letter to FCC chairman Kevin Martin.

The letter directs Martin to work to resolve the impasse between the two companies, which started Jan. 6 when Sinclair pulled its stations from Mediacom's systems. The action left more than 2 million cable viewers without at least one local station. Iowa, with about 250,000 Mediacom subscribers, was most affected.

The lawmakers said the dispute could be resolved through binding arbitration. They noted that Congress specifically contemplated arbitration when it passed a federal law that allowed broadcast TV station owners to seek payment from cable companies for permission to retransmit their signals.

Sinclair spokesman Barry Faber told the Associated Press that the retransmission law does not authorize the FCC to force binding arbitration. "The retransmission consent right is a private property right and negotiations over that are the same as any other commercial negotiation," he said.

For the government to intercede and force a settlement in a private business deal is a "very dangerous slippery slope," Faber added.

Mediacom spokeswoman Phyllis Peters said that Mediacom hoped the senator's involvement would resolve the issue.