Ergen To Rosenworcel: Fix ‘Broken’ Retransmission Consent Regime

Feb 07, 2024

By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband

Washington, D.C., Feb. 7, 2024 – DISH Network Corp. Chairman Charlie Ergen late last week made the rounds at the Federal Communications Commission.

In a Feb. 2 meeting with FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, Ergen criticized one of her key pay-TV initiatives: Making cable and satellite TV operators provide consumers rebates as compensation for lost programming during contract disputes. 

“With respect to programming blackouts, DISH described how current proposals (including requiring MVPDs to provide rebates to customers) will only make the problem worse. Instead, DISH urged the FCC to focus on the root of the problem – fixing the broken retransmission consent regime,” DISH said in a Feb. 6 filing with the FCC.

DISH’s filing said Ergen delivered the same message on the same day to FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr; FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington; FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks; and Deena Shetler, Chief of Staff and Legal Advisor for Media and International for FCC Commissioner Anna Gomez.

Ergen’s comments on rebates tracked with Jan. 31 congressional testimony of DirecTV Chief Content Officer Rob Thun.

“Listen, if there's mandates that rebates are provided to customers, you’ve handed even more leverage to broadcasters in already stilted negotiations,” Thun told the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

DirecTV is reportedly offering $10 credits to subscribers who lost access to 12 Cox Media Group TV stations in nine markets on Feb. 2 over a contract dispute over continued carriage of the stations. The blackout includes subscribers to DirectTV STREAM and U-verse.

In Jan. 17 statement, Rosenworcel said her support for rebates was about fairness.

“When consumers are saddled with a blackout …, I think they deserve a refund. They should not be asked to shell out for programming that they were promised but are unable to watch,” she said.

According to a notice in today’s Federal Register, comments on Rosenworcel’s rebates proposal are due on or before March 8 and reply comments on or before April 8.

Rosenworcel also wants the FCC to adopt rules that would ban cable and satellite TV providers from using Early Termination Fees (ETFs) and Billing Cycle Fees (BCFs). She contends the bans would reduce the cost of choosing a new pay-TV provider for millions of consumers.

ETFs require customer payment for breaking a service contract early, and BCFs involve the denial of partial-month refunds to non-contract customers who drop service with days or weeks remaining on a monthly bill. Rosenworcel refers to ETFs and BCFs as “junk fees.”

Unlike DirecTV and many cable operators, DISH in Feb. 5 comments with the FCC did not challenge’s the agency’s legal authority to adopt ETF and BCF bans, though the company thinks they are a bad idea.

In his FCC meetings, Ergen reiterated the company’s position on an ETF ban.

“With respect to banning early termination fees (“ETFs”), DISH explained how plans with ETFs can lower upfront or ongoing costs for pay-TV consumers,” DISH’s filing said.