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FCC chair proposes pay-TV refunds for broadcast blackouts

If your favorite broadcast network goes dark on a cable or satellite TV provider because of a business dispute, you should get some money back, FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel says.

Rosenworcel on Wednesday announced two proposals she said would “further the FCC’s strategic goal to empower consumers in the media marketplace.”

One proposal seeks 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.” The other solicits input on a rule that would force pay-TV operators to notify the FCC via an online public portal if there’s a broadcast-programming blackout 24 hours or more.

“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 which represents 500-plus small and midsize cable companies, slammed Rosenworcel’s suggestion, arguing it would give “mega-broadcasters” even more of an advantage in carriage disputes.

“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,” ACA Connects president/CEO Grant Spellmeyer said in a statement. “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. 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.”

NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, the trade group that represents the largest U.S. cable operators and programmers, declined to comment on Rosenworcel’s proposal.

Recent TV blackouts have included Disney’s 12-day broadcast and cable network outage on Charter Communications’ Spectrum and an 11-week blackout of 176 of Nexstar’s local stations and cabler NewsNation on DirecTV. Variety

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