In Suddenlink-Cox Media Group feud, Huffman blames media consolidation

January 22, 2021

After two weeks of finger-pointing amid customers’ calls to resume service, the dispute between Altice/Suddenlink and Cox Media Group continued Friday with no end in sight.

Suddenlink said it was not its decision to drop KIEM-NBC and KVIQ-CBS from its channel lineup and accused CMG of unfairly jacking up customers’ fees. CMG accused Suddenlink of choosing to adversely affect its customers rather than reaching “a fair market deal.”

In the end, it’s the consumer that suffers, said Bayside resident Greg Holland. Holland was among many community members who have contacted the Times-Standard to inquire about the ongoing dispute between Suddenlink and CMG.

“I was first upset by a weakness of my own, the NFL playoffs,” Holland laughed. “With dropping the channels they essentially cut our local viewership out of the Super Bowl.”

These channels keep the community in touch with local events and news, Holland said.

“I mean we’re not going to get that just from the national services, you know? There’s a lot of information that the community has depended on over the years that comes from those channels,” he said.

Responding to the Times-Standard’s request for comment, Suddenlink spokesperson Janet Meahan said that “it was not Suddenlink’s decision to drop the channels.”

“As we’ve stated previously, we want to carry the channels but at a rate that is reasonable for our customers. CMG is asking for fees that are above what we and our customers pay any other broadcaster and, because we would not agree to their demands, the channels were pulled from our lineups,” Meahan said. “I’d also like to point out that Suddenlink has offered to restore CMG channels to consumers while negotiations continue, with the commitment to make the terms of any new agreement retroactive to the date programming is restored, thus ensuring that CMG is fully compensated for its programming, however CMG has rejected this approach.”

If CMG reconsiders, Meahan said Suddenlink will restore programming “as soon as CMG permits us to do so.”

CMG did not return the Times-Standard’s repeated request for comment on the subject. In a Jan. 8 press statement CMG executive vice president Paul Curran said, “Our country continues to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic and, during these uncertain times, it is more important than ever that our viewers know their trusted local stations are there for them, providing the news and information they need to make decisions for their families.”

The press statement places blame on Suddenlink and encouraged Suddenlink subscribers to “call and urge them to agree to a fair deal, engage with CMG and get your local programming back on their service.”

“Your access to quality local news, weather, and popular sports and entertainment programming is at stake,” the statement said.

“I would have thought (the Federal Communications Commission) would have rules to protect TV service in a neighborhood or in a community,” Holland said. “They should be required to meet certain qualifications like providing basic channels.”

In a Jan. 15 letter, local media advocate and executive director of Access Humboldt Sean McLaughlin called on Congress and the FCC to address “underlying policy actions needed to secure and protect media localism.”

“We call upon those corporations to consider the impact on local communities and note that Altice has offered CMG to continue carrying those stations while they negotiate their retransmission consent agreement. Ultimately, these absentee corporations are negotiating a cost that will be born by local cable subscribers in our region,” he wrote. “Efforts like Congressman Huffman’s proposed legislation, the Local and Independent Television Protection Act, deserve immediate attention and widespread support.”

North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) confirmed his plans to reintroduce the 2019 legislation which focused on the Sinclair-Tribune merger.

“I hope that the political landscape is more favorable now,” Huffman said Friday. “I think these are the types of things that happen when you have too much media consolidation and not enough competition. This isn’t the first time that we’ve had issues like this on the North Coast. I think we need this new administration and the FCC to do a much better job pushing back on this consolidation trend.”

Though it is unknown when Suddenlink and CMG will resolve the ongoing dispute, KIEM-NBC and KVIQ-CBS can still be found through other satellites, cable TV, over the air antenna or through a streaming provider. Additionally, Suddenlink said its Eureka customers can view local programming on KBVU-FOX and KAEF-ABC.

By:  Isabella Vanderheiden
Source: Eureka Times-Standard