Mediacom Slams FCC for Failing to Reform Retransmission Process

Cable company chief Rocco Commisso is not happy with Julius Genachowski — not happy at all

Get off your duff and do something.

That’s the message from Mediacom Chairman Rocco Commisso in a letter to Federal Communications Commissioner Julius Genachowski.

Commisso writes that he expected the FCC head to push harder for new rules governing retransmission negotiations between television networks and cable providers.

“Your remarks when you were first appointed as Chairman encouraged us to believe that, under your leadership, the Commission would finally address the problem,” Commisso writes. “I regret to say that it is now almost three years later and nothing has been done.”

The heated missive comes after talks between Mediacom and LIN Media broke down Wednesday night, resulting in blackouts of LIN-owned stations throughout the South and Mid-West.

Mediacom, which has 1.14 million subscribers, has feuded with the likes of Sinclair Broadcast Group in the past over retransmission fees.

In his note, Commisso complains that Genachowski’s failure to push for reforms to the way negotiations take place has led to escalating costs for cable customers and programming blackouts that could have been avoided.

“I am deeply disappointed with the Commission’s lack of interest in keeping multichannel television service affordable,” Commisso writes.  “Twice in the past five years, I have tried to stand up for consumers by resisting exorbitant demands for retransmission consent fees. And twice the Commission put the interests of broadcasters ahead of those of the viewing public.”

Last March, the FCC said it would review how negotiations are conducted and consider possible amendments to retransmission regulations, but it stopped short of offering any reforms.

If the commission gets around to offering something more concrete, Commisso has some ideas.

In the letter, the Mediacom chief called on Genachowski to institute a series of new measures that would, among other things, force content providers to disclose the amount they charge cable providers to carry their programming.

Commisso also said that the FCC should require media companies to unbundle their programming packages, so that cable providers are no longer forced to pay for a grab bag that includes a mixture of popular and unpopular channels, but can be more selective about what they pay to retransmit.

To that end, Commisso said he believes that consumers should be offered an a la carte service that allows them to select what channels they would like to subscribe to instead of being forced to buy set packages.

“I am deeply disappointed with the Commission’s lack of interest in keeping multichannel television service affordable,” Commisso wrote. “Twice in the past five years, I have tried to stand up for consumers by resisting exorbitant demands for retransmission consent fees. And twice the Commission put the interests of broadcasters ahead of those of the viewing public.”