The FCC has fined Sinclair Broadcast Group nearly $9.5 million in connection to a seven-month investigation into the broadcaster's retransmission licensing negotiations.
The agency alleges in a number of circumstances that Sinclair didn't fulfill its obligations to negotiate in good faith, often including stations it doesn't control in its bargaining talks with pay-TV operators.
The settlement with Sinclair comes just a few weeks after FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced that his agency would not reform its "totality of circumstances" test for good-faith retrans negotiations.
"As Chairman Wheeler made clear just this month, the commission will not hesitate to take enforcement action where broadcasters or pay TV providers violate their good faith obligations," said Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake, in a statement. "Today's action demonstrates our strong commitment to vigilantly enforce our retransmission consent rules when necessary."
The settlement comes a year after Dish complained to the FCC about Sinclair amid a blackout that involved 129 stations.
"ACA commends the FCC's Media Bureau for taking strong, first-ever action against Sinclair -- a bad actor in retransmission consent negotiations by anyone's definition," said Matthew Polka, President and CEO of the American Cable Association. "But the widespread duress felt by independent cable operators as a result of broken and outdated retransmission consent rules exploited by TV stations across the country is far from over. This is especially true in the wake of Chairman Wheeler's recent decision not to recommend changes to the FCC's good faith rules in a proceeding Congress directed the FCC to initiate in the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization Act of 2014 (STELAR). Notwithstanding today's action, Chairman Wheeler should reconsider his decision that additional FCC guidance through the good faith rules is unneeded at this time."
As part of the settlement, the FCC has agreed to grant all pending Sinclair renewal applications (for 90 stations) as part of the settlement terms.
"The FCC did not find Sinclair to be at fault in connection with any of the matters addressed in the Consent Decree, nor did Sinclair admit any liability with respect thereto. This Consent Decree, and the dismissals of other pending matters, brings closure to all of these issues and allows Sinclair to focus on the future," Sinclair said in a statement.