Mediacom—a provider of regional cable services in 21 Southern and Midwestern states—cited the “growing crisis” in retransmission consent negotiations among multichannel video program distributors (MVPDs) and TV broadcasters in petitioning the FCC for revisions to its broadcasting rules.  The requested changes would condition TV license renewals on the station’s certification that it will not terminate carriage of the station signal by an MVPD upon expiration of the parties’ retransmission consent agreement if the station in question “is not accessible via over-the-air reception or Internet streaming to at least 90% of the homes in its local market served by the MVPD.”  

Filed on Tuesday, the petition coincides with the publication of a report by research firm SNL Kagan predicting that retransmission consent fees paid by MVPDs to U.S. broadcasters will reach $10.4 billion per year by 2021.  Highlighting an earlier pronouncement by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler that pointed to an 8,600 percent surge in retransmission consent fees between 2005 and 2012, Mediacom CEO Rocco Commisso lamented in a letter to Wheeler that the FCC “has done nothing to slow the drain on consumer pocketbooks.”  Unless the FCC acts, Mediacom warned, small and regional cable operators will have no choice but to (1) stop carrying broadcast stations “that elect retransmission consent,” (2) raise subscription rates “to a level that is unaffordable for tens of millions of Americans,” or (3) “get out of the video business altogether.”  Mediacom

In this issue

Mediacom Petitions FCC for Limits on Retransmission Consent Blackouts

Wireless Carriers, Broadcasters Press FCC for Changes to Incentive Auction Items

AT&T, Rural Kentucky Carrier Challenge T-Mobile Claims on 700 MHz License Transfer

T-Mobile Eliminates Roaming Fees for Voice and Data Service in Canada and Mexico

Virgin America Announces In-Flight Wi-Fi Partnership with ViaSat

further cautioned that, as a consequence of the blackout threat and surging subscription rates, consumers “may need to turn back to over-the-air [TV] reception as an option” at a time when “the broadcast industry's commitment to free over-the-air service is dying.” 

The proposed rule change, argued Mediacom, would “create incentives for local broadcasters to extend free access to their signals” while protecting cable subscribers that lack adequate access to over-the-air signals from the threat of local channel blackouts.  Observing that “millions of Americans cannot receive a quality off-air signal,” Commisso told Wheeler that his company’s petition “does nothing more than ask the FCC to ensure that broadcasters keep their part of the bargain and further the congressional goal of promoting universal availability of free broadcast television.” 

Wireless Carriers, Broadcasters Press FCC for Changes to Incentive Auction Items

As the FCC put the finishing touches on several draft items regarding next year’s incentive auction that are scheduled for a vote at the agency’s July open meeting, players in the wireless and broadcast television industries pushed the FCC this week for further changes to the auction rules.  Petitioners have requested revisions that would, among other things, boost the amount of reserve spectrum for small and regional wireless carriers and reduce the permissible level of impaired spectrum to result from the incentive auction.  Draft items that are teed up for a vote at the July 16 open meeting include:  (1) a public notice outlining application, bidding and other procedures for the incentive auction, (2) an order on reconsideration in the mobile spectrum holdings proceeding, and (3) revisions to the FCC’s competitive bidding rules. 

In a letter filed with the FCC on Monday, T-Mobile US restated its arguments in favor of increasing the wireless spectrum reserve to 40 MHz in spite of earlier indications from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler that the FCC intends to maintain the reserve at its previously-mandated level of 30 MHz.  Writing on behalf of T-Mobile, William Lehr—a researcher at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—reminded the FCC that the spectrum reserve serves as “the sole mechanism in the current auction design that is intended to address the challenge of ensuring that allocation of spectrum is compatible with sustaining the economic viability of structural competition.”  Although a representative of Mobile Future, whose members include Verizon Wireless and AT&T, proclaimed that “the facts in this debate have not changed and there is no need to increase the set-aside,” Lehr nevertheless maintained that expanding the spectrum reserve to 40 MHz “is a simple and easily accomplished way of ensuring the success of the [incentive] auction and avoiding the unnecessary risk of threatening the viability of continued facilities-based . . . competition.”