FCC Chair Proposes Refunds for Cable, Satellite TV Customers Impacted by Broadcast Blackouts

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has had enough of broadcast blackouts due to carriage disputes.

The agency head has issued two notices of proposed rulemaking to her fellow commissioners aimed at “furthering the FCC’s strategic goal to empower consumers in the media marketplace.”

If adopted by a vote of the full commission, the first proposal would seek comment on whether and how to require cable and satellite TV providers to issue rebates to subscribers in the event of a blackout “due to a failure to reach a retransmission consent agreement with broadcast station(s)/group owners.”

Meanwhile, the second would seek comment on requiring multichannel video program distributors (MVPDs) to notify the FCC of blackouts lasting more than 24 hours due to a “failure to reach a retransmission consent agreement.”

“Enough with the blackouts,” Rosenworcel said in a statement. “When consumers with traditional cable and satellite service turn on the screen, they should get what they pay for. It’s not right when big companies battle it out and leave viewers without the ability to watch the local news, their favorite show, or the big game. If the screen stays dark, they deserve a refund.”

ACA Connects, a trade group representing more than 500 smaller and medium-sized, independent companies that provide broadband, video, and phone services covering 23 million customers, knocked Rosenworcel’s proposals, arguing that they would give “mega-broadcasters even more leverage in their negotiations with smaller cable operators.”

“The nation’s independent broadband and cable providers work hard every day to deliver high-quality programming and services to their customers at fair prices. They hate blackouts as much as anyone. Unfortunately, the proposals announced today do not appear to address the root cause of these blackouts: the insatiable demand of broadcasters for outrageous, ever-increasing fees,” ACA Connects president and CEO Grant Spellmeyer said in a statement. “We urge the FCC to focus on tackling this underlying problem and to avoid proposals that are more likely to make it worse by giving mega-broadcasters even more leverage in their negotiations with smaller cable operators.”

The proposals come after 14.7 million Spectrum customers were left in the dark for 10 days last month due to a carriage dispute between its parent company Charter Communications and Disney Entertainment Television.

The two parties eventually reached an agreement that will offer ad-supported Disney+ Basic to Spectrum TV Select package customers as part of a wholesale agreement. ESPN+ will be provided to Spectrum TV Select Plus subscribers and ESPN’s flagship direct-to-consumer service will be made available to Spectrum TV Select subscribers when it launches.

The deal also gives Charter flexibility to offer a range of video packages at varying price points based upon different customer viewing preferences and allowed them to drop Baby TV, Disney Junior, Disney XD, Freeform, FXM, FXX, Nat Geo Wild and Nat Geo Mundo from Spectrum TV video packages.

Additionally, Nexstar recently resolved a carriage dispute with DirecTV, which resulted in the removal of 159 of its local TV stations across 113 markets in July.

Terms of the new multi-year distribution agreement covering 176 Nexstar-owned local television stations and the company’s national cable news network, NewsNation, were not disclosed.

Meanwhile, Dish Network customers lost access to 37 local channels across 27 markets after failing to reach an agreement with Hearst in September. Effective Oct. 12, Dish will charge an additional $5 per month for its satellite television packages, citing rising programming costs. Additionally, late fees are increasing from $10 to $12 in all states except for Arizona, Maine and Virginia.

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