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Consumer Reports backs FCC proposals to address station blackouts

Washington, DC – Federal Communication Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced today two proposals to better inform the public about station blackouts which occur when large pay-TV providers (cable or satellite) fail to reach a carriage agreement.

The first proposal would launch a rulemaking to determine whether cable and satellite providers should refund consumers for lost programming when blackouts result in the loss of stations. The second proposal would require Multichannel Video Program Distributors (MVPDs) to notify the FCC via an online public portal when there is a blackout of 24 hours or more of broadcast programming due to a failure to reach a retransmission consent agreement. 

“CR applauds Chairwoman Rosenworcel for announcing these pro-consumer initiatives today. One of the biggest harms facing consumers in the video marketplace is the prevalence of blackouts. When two major companies fail to reach a deal, consumers are left without being able to access the content they paid for. On one side is a broadcaster or media conglomerate, and on the other side is a video distributor, which in most cases is a cable or satellite television provider. We are pleased to see that the FCC is working to hold cable and satellite providers accountable to ensure that consumers get what they pay for,” said Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumer Reports.

Over Labor Day weekend, Spectrum cable blacked out Disney channels — including ESPN and ABC — to 15 million Americans on the night of College Football’s premier game and during the popular US Open tennis tournament. CR circulated a petition calling on Spectrum to automatically refund all customers for their loss, and for the FCC to hold these giant corporations accountable for these stunts. Within days, more than 30,000 consumers signed our petition, and NY Governor Kathy Hochul echoed our call for a refund. 

Schwantes added, “To be crystal clear, these disputes are all about money and universally harm consumers. The recent dispute between content powerhouse Disney and Charter, which brands its cable product as Spectrum, the second largest cable company in the country, serves as exhibit A for understanding this problem. Because two multi-billion companies could not come to an agreement on a price for carrying Disney’s content, 15 million Charter cable subscribers were denied ABC, ESPN and other channels owned by Disney for more than a week.”