Martin Backs Media Bureau on Retrans Call

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Sources confirm FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is circulating a proposal among the other commissioners that supports the Media Bureau's decision that Sinclair has not been bargaining in bad faith and that the FCC doesn't have the authority to referee the broadcaster's retransmission consent impasse with cable operator Mediacom.

Cable company Mediacom had asked the full commission to review the Media Bureau's finding, arguing it was off-base.

Martin got a letter from the co-chairs of the Senate Commerce Committee Wednesday urging the commission to require the parties to submit to arbitration and restore the affected TV channels to the Mediacom systems. Co-Chairs Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) told Martin in a letter that they thought the commission has the power to do so.

The chairman has said he doesn't think the commission has that authority, even during an appeal, though he has urged the parties to submit voluntarily to arbitration. Mediacom has said it would. Sinclair has declined in no uncertain terms.

In a letter responding to their request, Martin is expected to explain to Inouye and Stevens why he doesn't think the FCC has the authority. The letter had not been sent at press time.

After the two companies failed to come to terms on how much Mediacom would pay to carry Sinclair's TV station signals, Sinclair withdrew permission Jan. 5 and some 700,000 subs lost access, via Mediacom at least, to the TV stations.

Mediacom has sought swift action, citing this weekend's Super Bowl. Sinclair has countered that affected subs have alternatives including over the air and satellite and that the FCC has no place in what is essentially a business negotiation between two companies..