Rep. Huffman Lambasts Cox Media Group for Blackout, Urges Immediate Action to Restore Service

February 04, 2021

San Rafael, CA – Today, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) sent a letter to Cox Media Group (CMG) urging them to restore access to nationwide channels following CMG’s failed negotiations on retransmission consent agreements with AT&T/DirectTV. This is the second time CMG has contributed to blackouts impacting over 25,000 constituents in Rep. Huffman’s district who rely on Eureka, California channels KIEM-NBC and KVIQ-CBS. On January 8th, the same two CMG channels were dropped from Suddenlink’s programming.   

“My constituents are tired of these finger pointing exercises where big media conglomerates blame each other while consumers get screwed by blackouts.  I’m sure there’s some blame to go around, but CMG is the common denominator in the two recent blackouts.  At a minimum, that suggests they’re not working proactively to protect consumers. At worst, it suggests they’re using consumers as hostages by letting blackouts happen to maximize their negotiating leverage.  Either way, it’s unacceptable,” said Rep. Huffman.   

In the letter to Cox Media Group, Rep. Huffman stated: “I am disappointed to learn that Cox Media Group has, for the second time this year, failed to negotiate retransmission consent agreements, resulting in blackouts for my constituents and communities across twenty markets nationwide […] As you know, [the Communications Act of 1934] requires that should broadcasting stations opt out of must carry status, the broadcaster along with cable and satellite operators must negotiate retransmission in “good faith.” Allowing consumers to experience blackouts to enhance your negotiating leverage is not "good faith."    

“CMG’s suggestion that customers switch to another cable, satellite, or streaming provider in order to regain access is poorly informed and entirely unreasonable; many of my affected constituents live in rural areas with limited access to broadband and other distributors. Furthermore, placing the burden on your customers to find alternative solutions is not only a terrible business practice – it’s also a grave failure to prioritize the public interest and the essential value your services provide to local communities […] I strongly urge you to restore access to these twenty nationwide channels immediately and do everything in your power to avoid blackouts of this kind in the future,” the letter concludes. 

As an extra step to address this issue, Congressman Huffman will be reintroducing the Local and Independent Television Protection Act, a bill designed to address media consolidation by getting rid of the UHF discount, an antiquated FCC loophole reinstated by the Trump administration that facilitates mergers by allowing media companies to “discount” UHF stations (channels 14-83) when calculating whether they’re subject to the national TV ownership cap. The cap states that no single company is allowed to own broadcast stations that reach more than 39% percent of television-viewing households in the country. For reintroduction this year, the measure will be expanded to add protections for consumers whose access to local news is unfairly jeopardized by failed retransmission consent negotiations. 

Specifically, the bill will include a provision stating that should two parties fail to negotiate, instead of cutting off access to local channels for consumers, the cable or satellite provider would be required to continue retransmitting local broadcast stations for a set period of time while the parties resolve their differences. This protection mechanism, known as interim carriage, would alleviate the burden on the consumer of these unnecessary and unfair blackouts. 

A full copy of the letter can be found here.