Sen. Jay Rockefeller has taken up the cause of smaller operators who say television broadcast stations are with increasing frequency colluding to jack up retransmission consent fees.

Rockefeller, who is chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, has asked the FCC to not approve any merger deals among broadcasters while the Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigates shared service agreements (SSA), in which broadcasters negotiate agreements on behalf of others in the same market.

Rockefeller has been on a bit of a roll with TV and video services. He recently introduced a bill that would assure web-based streaming video companies the same access to programming as any MVPD. In fact, it would give streaming video companies to option to qualify as virtual MVPDs.  

There are regulations that limit the number of TV stations one company can own in a particular market, but broadcasters are getting around those rules.

In a recent example, a single entity, Nexstar Broadcasting Group, has been negotiating pay-TV carriage deals for affiliates of three of the four major broadcast networks in Binghamton, N.Y. The American Cable Association (ACA) recently asked the Federal Communications Commission to intervene, saying that by negotiating as a group, the broadcasters “gain undue bargaining leverage over cable operators and push cable rates even higher for consumers.”

Several broadcast group acquisitions are pending before the FCC, involving Sinclair Broadcasting, and Belo-Gannett.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, Rockefeller wrote, "given the current questions about the impact of SSAs on the broadcast landscape, the FCC should approach each of the pending transactions cautiously."

"We're thrilled that Senator Rockefeller is calling attention to this issue," said Matt Wood, policy director of Free Press. "Fake owners shouldn't hold real broadcast licenses. For too long the FCC has turned a blind eye while broadcasters have grown their empires at the expense of local viewers."

The ACA has been complaining about broadcaster collusion for some time now. The organization wrote the FCC commending Sen. Rockefeller for bringing to the Commission’s attention “the widespread and increasing consolidation in the local television marketplace, particularly the rising prevalence of separately owned, same-market network affiliates of the ‘Big Four’ broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC) colluding in their sale of retransmission consent, often under cover of various forms of ‘coordination agreements’ in ways that are harmful to competition and consumers.”