The FCC Wednesday announced fines totaling $9 million on 17 stations – or eight licensees – affiliated with Sinclair Broadcast Group for not negotiating retransmission consent agreement with AT&T in good faith.
The so-called Forfeiture Order imposed a per-station penalty of $512,228 against each defendant “for willfully and repeatedly violating the Commission’s good faith negotiation standards,” the FCC said. The negotiations dated back to 2019. In the case of only one defendant station, which showed “a demonstrable inability to pay,” it reduced the proposed forfeiture to $30,000.
Retransmission consent agreements establish the fees TV stations charge video providers for rights to carry, or retransmit, their signals.
The penalty follows a record $48 million fine the FCC hit Sinclair with in May in a civil penalty — the largest imposed on a broadcaster in the FCC’s history — to close three open government investigations, including of its conduct as it sought to acquire Tribune Media in 2018.
In the retrans case, the Commission found that the stations violated its standards by refusing to negotiate with AT&T and subsidiary DirecTV for retransmission consent, “unreasonably delaying retransmission consent negotiations regarding the Defendant Stations, and failing to respond to AT&T’s proposals for the retransmission of the Defendant Stations.”
MVPD advocacy group the American Television Alliance applauded the FCC’s decision. “We are pleased that the FCC’s action sent such a strong signal that it will not tolerate broadcasters’ bad-faith conduct, especially when their behavior leads to needless TV blackouts that are harmful to American consumers,” said ATVA spokesperson, Jessica Kendust.