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GCI wins out in FCC fight over acquisition of Alaska TV stations

Score one for the new guy in Alaska's brewing television war. On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission granted Denali Media, a subsidiary of Alaska telecommunications giant General Communications Inc., the go-ahead to buy three television stations in Alaska: CBS affiliate KTVA in Anchorage, and NBC affiliates KSCT in Sitka and KATH in Juneau.

Led by Anchorage broadcast powerhouse KTUU, an NBC affiliate, broadcasters from around the state had urged the FCC to take measures that would ensure GCI would continue to be a fair conduit for local programming. They sought restrictions that would prevent GCI from squashing competitors by charging exorbitant rates, assigning unfavorable channel positions, or bypassing local programming altogether. The FCC was unconvinced of the threat, as the order authorizing GCI/Denali to acquire the three TV stations contains no restrictions.

"We're disappointed in the FCC ruling and we, along with the other Alaska broadcasters, will assess our legal options moving forward," Andy MacLeod, General Manager for KTUU, told employees in an email following the ruling.

A main concern for the media entities that wanted to block GCI/Denali was the concept of a dual monopoly. GCI has what some view as a near-monopoly on the distribution of news, information and entertainment through its statewide cable systems. Jumping in now as a producer of that programming in the form of Denali Media stands to make GCI even more dominant as a common owner of both a cable system and broadcast television stations. The fear of what that would look like if GCI was ruthlessly anticompetitive motivated many Alaska broadcasters to seek protection from the potential threat through regulatory restrictions.

The FCC was unpersuaded.

"We find that the Applications do not propose a transaction that would violate any Commission's rule or policy, and that the objections advanced by its proponents are more appropriate for industry-wide proceedings, are unsupported, or are otherwise speculative with regard to future harms," the commission wrote in its order.

Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com