Cable and satellite TV blackouts have become a common occurrence, as we saw this summer with disputes between Charter’s Spectrum and Disney, as well as the three-month spat between DIRECTV and Nexstar. The Federal Communications Commission is pushing to make sure subscribers are fairly compensated if these blackouts continue to happen.
FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel proposed two new rules for review. A first would require cable and satellite providers like Charter and DIRECTV issue rebates to subscribers in the event of a blackout resulting from the failure to come to a distribution agreement with broadcast stations or group owners. The second would be to require the pay-TV providers to alert the FCC about a looming blackout of 24 hours or more through an online public portal.
The proposals would provide more of a guarantee that subscribers hit by blackouts would be compensated for the loss programming, and increasingly important issue considering the higher frequency of disputes over distribution costs. While companies like Charter and DIRECTV have offered rebates in the past, they often only trigger once a customer complains or calls a service line. This rule would make rebates mandatory for all pay-TV providers, allowing consumers to have a more consistent expectation of compensation.
“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.”
But ACA Connects, a trade group that represents smaller cable operators, hit back at the FCC, saying won’t slow down the rate of blackouts and unfairly rewards broadcasters at the expense of cable.
“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.”
Both of these rules are just proposals, so they will need to go through public review and comment before they go into effect. But it’s likely to garner support from consumers who have been burned from past blackouts.