Mediacom Petitions FCC To Limit TV Blackouts As Retransmission Prices Rise

UPDATED: Mediacom’s  CEO Rocco Commisso couldn’t have picked a better day to petition the FCC  to rein in broadcasters’ retransmission consent price hike demands — as he also blasted Chairman Tom Wheeler for “refusing to get involved at the very time when consumers most need your help.”

As fate would have it, Mediacom launched its campaign the same day research firm SNL Kagan updated and increased its retransmission consent forecast: It expects station owners to collect  $10.3 billion in 2021, up from $6.3 billion this year. It also increased its projection for 2020 by 5.4% to $9.8 billion.

Looked at another way, pay TV subscribers in 2018 will pay an average of $1.53 a month to receive a station carrying one of the major networks, Kagan estimates. That would put them collectively behind  ESPN ($8.80), TNT ($2.16), Fox News ($1.67), Fox Sports 1 ($1.57), and Disney Channel ($1.56) — as well as most regional sports networks.

Mediacom is proposing a rule that would bar a station from yanking its programming from a pay TV system if fewer than 90% of the homes that a cable or satellite company serves in the market can receive the broadcaster’s signals, either over-the-air or via the Internet.

That would be appropriate, the company says in its petition: Congress gave stations the right to negotiate for retransmission payments “not to enrich broadcasters — it was to further the public policy goal of ensuring free access across America to local news and public affairs programming.”

In a separate letter to Wheeler, Commisso says that when it came to net neutrality “the Commission found a couple of ambiguous instances of possible blocking or throttling sufficient to justify subjecting [Internet providers] to burdensome new regulations. Yet, the FCC seemingly can’t be bothered to deal with the hundreds of times broadcasters have blocked millions of Americans from viewing broadcast TV through their preferred providers and used their monopolistic market power to coerce rate increases that are without precedent in any other American industry.”

Contract disputes frequently result in a broadcaster’s programming going dark on cable or satellite, usually for a brief period. It happened 107 times last year, and 127  times in 2013, says the American Television Alliance (ATVA) — a group supported by pay TV distributors.

Responding to the petition, Robert Kenny of — a broadcaster supported group — says that Mediacom was tied with Time Warner Cable in last place in a consumer satisfaction survey by the American Customer Service Index.  “So maybe Mediacom and ATVA should look in the mirror if they are truly concerned with the plight of consumers….Real change requires true commitment on the part of Mediacom and other ATVA members to improve the current sorry state of pay-TV customer service in America.”


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