FCC Proposes New Rules to Protect Consumers Against Cable And Streaming Blackouts




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woman holding bill looking confused

Today, the Federal Communications Commission proposed mandatory rebates for consumers facing blackouts through cable or satellite television subscriptions. 

The Commission is seeking public comment on the Customer Rebates for Undelivered Video Programming During Blackouts, which addresses a growing number of programming blackouts affecting consumers. These blackouts result from cable operators and satellite television providers who have failed to reach “retransmission consent” agreements for carriage of local broadcast stations with the licensees of those stations.

Several cable TV providers and streaming services have faced standoffs in licensing agreements, resulting in customers losing access to stations they pay to watch. This is particularly concerning to football fans as Comcast and Paramount narrowly avoided a Super Bowl blackout ahead of February’s big game. DIRECTV, DIRECTV STREAM, and Tegna recently reached a deal to restore 64 TV stations to customers in 51 markets that went dark in late 2023. 

Blackouts are becoming more frequent as feuds between cable increase and result in local TV stations getting cut. Since 2020, there have been 83 blackouts due to disagreements between DIRECTV and Nexstar, Spectrum and Disney, and DIRECTV and Tegna. 

Customers who lose access to programs due to licensing agreement snafus are still expected to pay the total price for services not delivering the entire promised package. In the case of DIRECTV and Tegna, customers got a $10 rebate, but only if they knew to ask for it. 

Often, consumers don’t receive a rebate offer for the loss of service. 

“When viewers lose the ability to watch the local news, their favorite show, or sports team on their cable or satellite service because of a retransmission blackout, they are not getting what they paid for. And that’s not right,” said Chairwoman Jessica Rosenwrocel in a statement to Cord Cutters News. “That’s why we’re starting a conversation about the best way to ensure that when viewers turn on that screen, they get what they pay for.”

The proposal seeks comment on how to require cable and satellite providers to issue rebates in the event of a blackout. The Commission is working on several consumer protections, including consumer labels for broadband services, “all-in” pricing information for cable and satellite bills and promotional materials, and limiting junk fees, including early termination fees, for canceling cable and satellite services.

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