Dish Network said it filed a complaint against Sinclair Broadcast Group charging that Sinclair is refusing to negotiate as their retransmission consent agreement nears expiring.
Sinclair is one of the largest stations owners. According to Dish, Sinclair is seeking to negotiate for 32 stations it does not control in the markets where Sinclair owns stations.
Dish’s agreement with Sinclair expires at 11:59 p.m. Saturday night. If no agreement is reached it could lead to the biggest station blackout in history, Dish says. Sinclair officials could not be reached for comment.
The complaint filed Saturday with the Federal Communications Commission asserts that the two sides must negotiation under the STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014.
“We’re asking the FCC to act on behalf of consumers to bring Sinclair back in line with the law,” Jeff Blum, Dish senior VP and deputy general counsel, said in a statement. “Sinclair’s ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ posture is in direct violation of federal regulations – they have offered a single path and are threatening that any deviation from that path will lead to a consumer blackout.”
Dish said they had been making steady progress in their negotiations and that Dish had offered a short-term extension to Sinclair that would keep the stations’ signals available to Dish subscribers and retroactively pay Sinclair the new rate they agreed to. But Sincialr instead threatened to back out the stations.
“Since we offered to retroactively true them up when new rates were agreed upon, Sinclair had nothing to lose and consumers had everything to gain from an extension of our existing contract that would allow negotiations to continue,” said Blum. “Instead, Sinclair has rejected our offer and has chosen to use innocent consumers as pawns to gain leverage for the economic benefit of Sinclair, while causing substantial harm and disruption to the lives of those very same consumers who ultimately will bear the brunt of the unfair price increases sought by Sinclair.”
Dish is asking the FCC to immediately grant preliminary injunctive relief while the Commission considers the complaint, and to require Sinclair to negotiate in good faith for the stations for which it has control under FCC rules.
The American Television Alliance, whose members include Dish, fired off a press relaase Saturday hammering Sinclair:
“This is almost as bad as thieves looting a store before the police arrive," said ATVA spokesman Trent Duffy. "This week, the FCC Chairman indicated the need to take measures to protect consumers against this kind of abusive behavior, but with their backs against the wall, it appears that broadcasters are trying to squeeze every penny out of the system while they still can. This outrageous and unprecedented blackout should not happen.”
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler circulated an order eliminating broadcast exclusivity rules that would allow cable operators to import network or
syndicated programming from out-of-market stations, including when they can't strike retrans deals with in-market stations with that same programming.
he also launched a congressionally-mandated review of good faith negotiations that will almost certainly include whether blackouts should be part of that.
An FCC spokesperson was not available for comment on the timing of a response to the Dish petition.