Texas Cable Operator Fined $2.25 Million for Retrans Violation

WASHINGTON—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