McDowell and Adelstein Weigh In on Retrans Talk

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Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell said  he believed a meeting he and Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein had with the heads of Mediacom and Sinclair helped the companies to their eventual deal on retransmission consent.

That came in a House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee FCC oversight hearing. The comment was in response to a question from Nathan Deal (R-Ga.), an outspoken critic of the retransmission consent process.

McDowell and Democratic FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein had met privately with the executives to try to resolve the issue, and said that a deal did get hammered out on the eve of the Super Bowl.

Deal said he did not accept that an agreement  meant the process was working or that the system was fair or all parties are willing participants.

Deal complained in his opening statement that the process was broken, that stand-offs like the one between Sinclair and Mediacom were just the tip of the iceberg, and the process "lacks the principles we find in a free market." He repeated his points for emphasis.

Most of the commissioners said the powers to insert themselves into carriage negotiations were limited, though Commissioner Adelstein suggested that Congress might have unintentionally given companies a trump card over the interests of consumers by not giving them more explicit authority.

McDowell, joined by Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate, suggested that process was generally working. Tate cited thousands of deals that had gotten done, and McDowell saying that the "vast majority" of them were going well. He added that the ones going well are not the deals that get coverage in the media.

He suggested that the FCC should look into rising programming costs--Chairman Kevin Martin made the same point.

Martin reiterated that the commission's power to intervene was limited to forcing parties back to the bargaining table if it found they were not bargaining in good faith. That power, he said, does not extend to forced arbitration, though the FCC did strongly encourage Sinclair and Mediacom to submit to arbitration; forced interim carriage of a broadcast station, or forcing carriage at some set price.

He said  the FCC's conclusion that its power was limited had been appealed and the appeal was now before the commissioners.

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