Alabama TV Station Files Must Carry Complaint Against Dish

Dec 28, 2023

By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband

Washington, D.C., Dec. 28, 2023 – An Alabama TV station owner has turned to the Federal Communications Commission to resolve a carriage dispute with Dish Network.

Satellite TV providers like Dish have a legal obligation to carry local TV signals, but CNZ Communications, owner of WGBP-TV in Opelika, Ala., claims Dish has declined to carry the station in all areas where WGBP believes it deserves distribution. Dish, by contrast, has said it has met its legal requirements.

CNZ claims that because it has transmitters located in both the Atlanta Desingated Market Area (DMA) and the Columbus, Ga., DMA, Dish is required to carry the station throughout both DMAs. So far, Dish has agreed to carriage in the Atlanta DMA, but only in Lee County, Ala., in the Columbus, Ga., DMA. WGBP was assigned to the Atlanta DMA by Nielsen.

“As one of the few stations in the country that is licensed to a community located in one local market but assigned to a different market, WGBP, under the [FCC’s] rules and precedent for satellite broadcast signal carriage, is entitled to carriage throughout both markets,” the broadcaster said in its Dec. 11 complaint filed with the FCC.

WGBP airs the digital multicast network NBC LX Home, according to its website.

In an Oct. 31 letter to CNZ’s outside counsel, Dish said the station was not legally entitled to distribution throughout the Columbus, Ga., DMA.

“CNZ seems to be conflating language that enables a broadcast station to assert mandatory carriage rights in two separate DMAs in cases where its community of license is located outside of its Nielsen-assigned DMA, with an obligation for the DBS provider to simultaneously carry such broadcast station throughout the entirety of both DMAs. This reading is incorrect,” Dish said.

CNZ responded by saying DISH’s “position – that there is a distinction between CNZ’s right to assert mandatory carriage rights and DISH’s obligation to actually carry the station – is both nonsensical and contrary to the plain language of the Copyright Act and the Commission’s rules.”

Dish said based on its reading of the law, the satellite carrier is required to distribute WGBP in the Atlanta DMA and Lee County and no more. Further, Dish said, that carriage throughout two entire DMAs would be an “unfair windfall” and create “a perverse incentive for other stations to seek reassignment by Nielsen to a DMA that does not contain their community of license, contrary to the public interest.”

CNZ provided Dish with language in which the FCC said in 2000 and again in 2022 that stations in situations similar to WGBP’s may assert mandatory carriage rights in both DMAs.

CNZ’s complaint was related to its carriage election for the 2024-26 cycle, which begins Jan. 1