In a victory for the owner of DirecTV, AT&T TV NOW and U-Verse, the Media Bureau on Friday granted a complaint from AT&T that pointed fingers at seven broadcast station groups for failing to negotiate in good faith for consent to carry the signals of their stations.
It’s a setback for stations that, while held by different licensees, are largely controlled by Sinclair Broadcast Group.
AT&T in late June filed the “bad faith” complaint with the FCC against a combined nine groups — all with agreements giving Sinclair control of their stations — that collectively “pulled” 20 stations from DirecTV and U-Verse homes on May 30 and June 10.
The matter involves broadcast stations licensed to Deerfield Media, GoCom Media of Illinois, Howard Stirk Holdings, Mercury Broadcast Group, MPS Media, Nashville License Holdings, Roberts Media, Second Generation of Iowa and Waitt Broadcasting, all of which are absent from AT&T’s MVPD services due to a March 2019 breakdown in negotiations over a new retransmission fee deal.
AT&T asserted that the stations “are refusing to negotiate with AT&T,” and pro-MVPD lobby American TV Alliance (ATVA) agrees.
AT&T called out the nine licensees for being “in flagrant violation” of the Commission’s rules by refusing to negotiate “for months on end.”
The impacted stations are as follows:
In its Memorandum Opinion & Order, Media Bureau Chief Michelle Carey declared, “We find that Defendants’ violated the per se good faith negotiation standards.”
Much of the complaint contains redacted information, and this was not revealed by the Media Bureau in the MO&O.
That didn’t prevent Carey from noting that the Bureau finds the defendants’ actions, “including a persistent refusal to negotiate, an unreasonable delay of negotiations, and a failure to respond to AT&T’s proposals, violated each of the per se good faith standards raised in AT&T’s complaint. Because we find three clear violations of the per se negotiating
standards, and because of the pending civil proceeding, we need not address, and decline to reach, the separate question of whether Defendants also committed a violation under the totality of the circumstances standard.”
With the Media Bureau under the belief that the stations remain “blacked out” to AT&T subscribers, Carey said, “Given the violations of the good faith negotiation standards we have found in this case, and the guidance provided herein, we urge the parties to expeditiously go to the bargaining table and commence negotiations ‘in an atmosphere of honesty, purpose and clarity of process.’”
The ATVA was one of the first groups to hail the ruling by Carey, noting that the FCC’s authority “to protect consumers against this kind of anti-consumer behavior is included in the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELAR) which will expire at the end of the year if Congress fails to act.”
ATVA spokesperson Trent Duffy said, “The FCC today took a strong and decisive stand for TV viewers and consumers, which should underscore why it is so critical for them to continue to be the arbiter for good faith negotiations on retransmission consent. Broadcasters want to kill the FCC’s ability to referee these negotiations, but today’s decision should remind everyone why it is so important that there be a fair judge. Congress must renew current law and strengthen the FCC’s “good faith” authority or American TV viewers are going to suffer more blackouts and runaway cable and satellite TV fees.”