They write to Gov. Sam Brownback, saying if the sale to PBC Broadcasting is approved without consumer safeguards, it is very likely to lead to “excessive retrans fees.”
Representatives of five Kansas cable operators have asked Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to pressure the FCC to reject the pending sale of Topeka’s ABC affiliate KTKA to PBC Broadcasting or at the least to impose “consumer safeguards” if it is OKd.
In their letter, Bill Barton of Giant Communications, Benjamin Foster of Twin Valley Communications, Thomas Larsen of Mediacom, Steven Sackrider of WTC Communications and Jason Smith of Rainbow Communications, say: “Topeka’s NBC and Fox stations are already commonly owned by a third entity called New Vision Television. In other areas of the country — including Youngstown, Ohio, and Savannah, Ga., where both PBC Broadcasting and New Vision own television stations — these station groups coordinate their activities, particularly with regard to carriage negotiations with cable, satellite and other pay-TV providers for the purpose of charging the highest possible carriage fees.
“This much is quite clear: If the FCC approves the sale of KTKA without appropriate conditions, PBC and New Vision will have a green light from government to form an unprecedented local station triopoly, controlling pay-TV providers’ access to three of the market’s Big Four stations. Absent government intervention, the Topeka Triopoly will use its market clout to stage massive signal blackouts until pay-TV providers, especially vulnerable small and midsize cable operators, cough up an outrageous pile of cash.”
The letter continues: “After weighing the public interest harms against the public interest benefits of the station sale, the FCC must deny the application or impose conditions. Obviously, formation of the Topeka Triopoly will take duopoly price-gouging to a whole new level, forcing consumers to pay higher and higher subscription rates as ransom for retaining access to three Big Four stations on their pay-TV systems. PBC Broadcasting has refused to say it will not coordinate retransmission consent negotiations in the Topeka market, just as it has not presented information showing that the purchase of KTKA would actually serve the public interest in that market. To shield viewers from paying excessive retrans fees, the FCC must condition or block the sale of Topeka’s ABC station to ensure that the Topeka Triopoly can’t gain undue influence over local pay-TV providers.
“As independent cable providers serving Topeka consumers, we know the FCC’s failure to act will lead to significant harm to our customers. On behalf of pay-TV viewers in Topeka, the FCC must be a cop against collusion and a bulwark against blackouts. We encourage you to take action immediately and tell the FCC either to disapprove the Topeka Triopoly or approve it with meaningful consumer safeguards.”