Mediacom-LIN Fight Leaves Consumers on the Sidelines

The office may be closed Saturday, but Congressman Justin Amash's voicemail could be overflowing with messages from angry constituents. Other elected officials could face the same rants, not to mention the local cable operator and TV station.

A dispute between Mediacom and LIN Media has the ABC station off the air in the Michigan market that includes Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. Without a rapprochement soon, the season opener between the local Western Michigan Broncos and rival University of Michigan won't be available to Mediacom subscribers on Saturday.

That is unlikely to go over well to say the least and these days with a feeling that Washington is the root of all trouble, Rep. Amash could simply be a target by default.

Stand-offs, where cable operators battle with station owners over how much they should pay them and blackouts ensue, are receiving increasing attention, but little action in Washington. The Senate held a hearing last year on improving the negotiating climate and the FCC has made noise about taking an aggressive role in the matter disputes, but the fights continue with consumers in the middle.



Rep. Amash, a first-term Republican who represents Grand Rapids, probably can't do much about it, short of writing a letter or making a call to the FCC to express his displeasure. Michigan's two U.S. Senators may have more sway.

The current standstill has eight LIN-owned stations off the air in Mediacom homes in six markets, also including Mobile, Ala. and Green Bay, Wisc. If the dispute continues, NFL games could be unavailable next week.

LIN and other station owners are enjoying the relatively newfound revenues from cable/satellite/telco TV operators and argue the payments are crucial for their business moving forward.

The operators believe they are being exploited and Mediacom's outspoken CEO Rocco Commisso sent a lengthy letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski Thursday expressing his frustration.

Commisso wrote he believed that when Genachowski took office he would take actions to protect consumers, but a failure to address "escalating" programming costs has been a disappointment. In the letter, Commisso portrays himself as trying to keep prices down in negotiations when "exorbitant demands" from the likes of LIN are made.

Yet, with the FCC "refus(ing) to adopt measures like binding arbitration to prevent content owners from using blackouts as a negotiating tactic," the trouble continues. The FCC's "inexplicable inaction" has cost Americans "billions of dollars," Commisso wrote.

LIN, for its part, said in a message to Mediacom subscribers that it is simple seeking "fair value," which "amounts to pennies a day per station, per subscriber."

Further, the rates it is seeking "are a fraction of what Mediacom probably pays" for many cable networks "you" hardly or never watch.

So, as the conflicts go on and games are missed, a political football may intensify, but there doesn't appear to be any reason for hope the ball will be moved down the field anytime soon.

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