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Four State Attorneys General Oppose Sinclair-Tribune Merger

WASHINGTON — Attorneys general from four states announced their opposition to the proposed merger between Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media, in the latest effort to try to convince the FCC to block the transaction.

The attorneys general from Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island wrote that the merger “will increase market consolidation above the acceptable statutory limit, reduce consumer choices, and threaten the diversity of voices in media.”

The Sinclair-Tribune combination would create a broadcasting giant with 223 TV stations serving 108 markets, including 39 of the top 50, and to cover about 72% of U.S. households.

“The chief concern of our states is the effect of this proposed merger on consumers,” the attorneys general wrote. “Our offices receive and mediate thousands of complaints a year from consumers about their video, internet, and telecommunications services.

“These complaints allege high prices, poor service quality, misleading information in advertisements, and from customer service representatives, and ineffective responses to customer complaints,” they added. “The proposed merger has the potential to exacerbate these problems.”

The filing was signed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, and Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin.

They said that the FCC also should consider delaying a decision on the deal until a federal appeals court completes its review of a challenge to the agency’s UHF discount. That is a provision that allows station groups to “discount” the reach of their UHF station holdings by 50% and comply with a 39% ownership cap. After Ajit Pai was appointed chairman of the FCC earlier this year and Republicans took the majority on the commission, he moved to restore the cap, reversing a decision made last year to eliminate the discount.

Thursday was the deadline for a new FCC comment period on the transaction. The agency had paused its review of the merger after Sinclair responded to additional FCC requests for information on how the merger would be in the public interest, a key question in the agency’s review.

A Sinclair spokesperson said that they had no comment.

Earlier this month, Tribune Media shareholders voted overwhelmingly to approve the deal.

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