FCC Approves GCI’s Purchase Of Television Stations

The Federal Communications Commission has approved GCI’s purchase of an Anchorage and two Southeast television stations.  But the company says viewers will not notice much change once Denali Media is on the air.

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GCI a year ago announced its plan to get into broadcast television and news programming statewide.  A number of television companies opposed the purchase.

GCI Antenna. Photo by Sir Mildred Pierce/Flickr Creative Commons.
GCI Antenna. Photo by Sir Mildred Pierce/Flickr Creative Commons.

The FCC order assigns KTVA in Anchorage, KATH-TV in Juneau, and KSCT, Sitka, to Denali Media Anchorage and Denali Media Southeast, new subsidiaries of General Communications, Inc., the state’s largest telecommunications company.

GCI expects the transaction will close within a week.  Corporate Services Vice President David Morris says the purchase price will not be released.

GCI provides cable television, Internet, wireless, and telephone statewide. This is its first foray into over-the air television.

Morris says the first new service the company will roll out will be a new look on the Anchorage CBS affiliate.

“The main one that we’re focused on right now is the high definition newscast originating from KTVA in Anchorage,” he says.

The small Southeast stations are affiliated with the NBC Network. The NBC signal is retransmitted from KATH in Juneau to Sitka’s KSCT, and seen in Angoon, Petersburg and Wrangell.

“We don’t see any reason why that would change,” he says. 

KATH also broadcasts some original Juneau programming.  Morris says in the near term that will not change.

“In general, if you’ve got local programming that people watch, they want to see it then it’s in the interest of the station to keep that local programming,” he says.

Public interest

In it’s order, the FCC said GCI’s takeover of the television stations was in the public interest of local viewers.  But a number of Alaska broadcasters opposed the buyout based on GCI’s near monopoly in cable television. The stations argued a distribution company as large as GCI could not compete fairly with traditional television stations.

The broadcasters, including KTUU in Anchorage, filed a Petition to Deny with the FCC, comparing it to Comcast cable’s acquisition of television program producer NBC Universal.  In that case the FCC required several conditions that limited competition between cable and broadcast television.

Instead, the FCC granted GCI the licenses without any  conditions.

Denali Media has created a news department and plans to compete with Alaska television stations.

Andy MacLeod is KTUU President and General Manager.  His says the safeguards applied in the Comcast/NBC merger would level the playing field.

They need to compete with us.  You know the news business is a very competitive business. I would say you know we’re really not going to change what we do.  We tell Alaska’s story and we send people all over the state ad every week we pumped out 22 hours of news.

Jack Goodman is KTUU attorney in Washington, D.C.  In filings with the FCC, he said the broadcast licenses just extend GCI’s monopoly in the state.  But the commissioners discounted that.

“They gave little weight to what appeared to us to be very serious concerns about the implications of GCI’s  ownership of almost all the  cable and broadband connections in Alaska and a leading broadcast station (with the purchase of KTVA),” Goodman says.

Goodman says the broadcasters who opposed GCI’s station purchase can petition the FCC for review.  If denied, the broadcasters could take the case to federal court.

GCI’s Morris says the launch of Denali Media had been planned for late September, but  with the delay in the FCC approval, it’s not clear when new television service will hit the air waves.

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Rosemarie Alexander is a reporter at KTOO in Juneau.

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