Mediacom still wants Congress to change retrans


Despite having struck a one-year deal with Sinclair Broadcast Group, Mediacom is begging Congress to change the law that requires it to negotiate with broadcasters for permission to deliver their content to its cable subscribers.

Immediately after concluding the deal with Sinclair, Mediacom CEO Rocco Commisso fired off a letter to Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), Chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet. Read it below.

The Honorable John Kerry
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510-2102

Dear Senator Kerry:

As you know, today Mediacom completed a retransmission consent agreement with Sinclair that protects hundreds of thousands of consumers from Sinclair’s threat to deny them access to upcoming NFL playoff games and other programming. I am writing to thank you for taking an interest in this matter and, in particular, for making clear that, as you stated, stripping consumers of access to programming “should not be a negotiating tactic” in retransmission consent disputes. Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening now and will happen in the future under the current retransmission consent regime as interpreted by the FCC. If consumers are to be protected in the long run, not just for a period of weeks or months, it is essential that the existing retransmission consent rules be thoroughly examined and reformed. I pledge to work with you to achieve that goal.

In the past, it has been all too easy for policy makers to dismiss calls for reform of the retransmission consent rules just because disaster is averted by a last minute deal that prevents service from being disrupted. But, as the recent Sinclair/Fox experiences demonstrate, the system is broken. Consumers are being harmed both by the uncertainty created by broadcasters’ threats to allow their signals to “go dark” and, over the longer term, by the increased costs that are the product of a negotiating process that allows broadcasters to hold consumers hostage.

A detailed discussion of the causes of the growing problem with retransmission consent and of possible solutions is beyond the scope of this letter, but is something I very much hope to have the opportunity to explore with you further. Suffice it to say that the marketplace is much different today than it was in 1992, when broadcasters’ must carry rights were supplemented with retransmission consent rights. Yet, as the marketplace has changed, certain rules designed to give broadcasters special privileges and protections have stayed the same. This regulatory inertia, together with lax enforcement of media ownership rules, has opened the door for the abuses that we are now seeing and will see in the future if nothing is done.

Over the past decade, I have been outspoken about the need for Congress and the FCC to protect television viewers from escalating video programming costs. Increased competition in the retail distribution market has not fixed the problem, as cable, satellite and phone companies have all been forced to raise video rates to offset the ever increasing wholesale prices we all have been required to pay. Just three years ago, after a similar dispute resulted in Sinclair pulling its signals from over 700,000 of Mediacom’s customers for nearly a month, I warned that absent action by the government, retransmission consent would amount to a hidden $6 billion tax on consumers simply to watch “free” broadcast television. Moreover, the impact of this hidden tax will fall disproportionately on those who can least afford it: senior citizens and economically disadvantaged persons who rely on the most basic level of cable service to keep them connected to their communities.

Fortunately, the one positive that has come out of our experience with Sinclair, and that of Time Warner Cable with Fox, is the greatly increased public awareness of the problems with the current retransmission consent scheme. Dozens of lawmakers at the federal, state, and local level were joined by numerous consumer groups to make their voices heard in letters and calls to the FCC urging that the interests of consumers be put ahead of those of special interests.

Broadcasters have been granted free use of the public airwaves on the condition that they serve their communities in a manner that furthers the public interest. While we strongly believe that the FCC already has the necessary authority under the Communications Act to prevent broadcasters from engaging in economic blackmail in violation of this public trust, we are nonetheless pleased that you have indicated your willingness to consult with those calling for retransmission consent reform and to pursue changes in the law. As indicated, we look forward to standing with you as you undertake this most important task.


Rocco B. Commisso

RBR-TVBR observation: It sounds like Commisso wants to go back to the bad old days when he got the most popular programming on his cable systems, from local broadcast stations, for free. Should we assume that he also favors giving away his product for free as well?