The American Cable Association (ACA) said that a growing number of retransmission consent complaints, petitions for declaratory rulings and requests for stays filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by small cable operators were evidence of abuse by broadcasters during carriage negotiations.

The ACA said the filings, submitted by independent operators, validated its long-standing claim that “broadcasters have unrestrained market power over small operators that is derived from federal laws and regulations, and they exploit their supremacy by acting in bad faith in their negotiations,” according to an ACA press release.

"It's an open industry secret that retransmission consent negotiations among broadcasters and small, independent cable operators more resemble an episode of ‘The Sopranos’ than they do a business negotiation in a free market," said Matt Polka, ACA's president and CEO. "Rather than allow the broadcasters to call open season on our nation's small cable businesses, many of whom are the only providers connecting small town America to the digital world, the FCC must step in and act on these complaints promptly before more damage is done."

As one example, the ACA cited a complaint filed by a small Louisiana operator, Trust Cable TV, whose systems and service areas were hammered when Hurricane Gustav ripped through the region earlier this month. During the emergency, a representative from broadcasters WGMB and WVLA “slapped Trust with a take-it-or-leave-it retransmission offer, then rescinded the offer on a few hours notice,” according to the ACA.

“The stations’ conduct is in clear disregard of the FCC's good faith negotiation obligations. Trust has asked the FCC for an emergency stay preventing the broadcast station owners from pulling its signals until Trust can fully recover from the storm and the proceeding concludes,” the ACA said in its release.

The ACA has filed several petitions with the FCC in regard to how retransmission deals between broadcasters and cable operators are carried out, including asking the FCC for a “quiet period” leading up to the digital transition on Feb. 17.

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