FCC’s Carr, Simington Blast Rosenworcel’s Retrans Blackout Rebates

Jan 18, 2024

By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband

Washington, D.C., Jan. 17, 2024 – The Federal Communications Commission’s Democratic majority wants cable and satellite TV consumers to receive rebates when TV stations go dark on their TVs.

The plan, unveiled Wednesday by FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, triggered a strong response from the agency’s two Republicans, Brendan Carr and Nathan Simington.

Carr called the rebates a continuation of Rosenworcel’s effort to impose unauthorized rate regulation on cable and satellite TV operators. Last month, the FCC launched a proceeding to ban cable and satellite providers from imposing early termination fees and billing cycle fees.

“Today, the FCC heads right back down this same path – proposing to impose another form of rate regulation using the agency’s limited authority to regulate customer service issues. And once again, this action comes at a time when consumer choice has never been greater and traditional MVPDs [multichannel video programming distributors] are bleeding market share to new, unregulated competitors. I cannot support this effort,” Carr said in a statement.

TV stations go dark on cable and satellite TV systems when the sides fail to reach a new retransmission consent agreement. Most recently, Tegna’s 64 stations when dark on DirecTV on Nov. 30, 2023 but were restored last Saturday just hours before the start of the first NFL wildcard playoff game between the Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans.

Simington in a lengthy statement said he was dissenting because the plan “at best, will create zero consumer welfare (and, likely, will harm consumer welfare) while simultaneously misreading the [law.]”

He added, “The tentative conclusions regarding authority contained in the [proposal] are not supported by our statute, which is ‘illegal’ with more words. But is it nevertheless a good idea? That is, had the [FCC] authority to undertake a rebates mandate, should it do so? Also no.”

Nationally, cable operators collectively have 34.8 million subscribers, and DirecTV and Dish Network serve 18.5 million combined, according to Leichtman Research Group.

In her statement, Rosenworcel said rebates were 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.

FCC Democrats Geoffrey Starks and Anna Gomez voted in support of the rebates.

The FCC will require months to establish final rules, which will likely need to spell out how long a blackout has to last to qualify for a rebate – in addition to specifics on how to calculate the amount owed a customer.

“I was also pleased to learn in meetings with MVPDs that many providers offer some form of rebate or credit for blackouts already, so the item now seeks to learn more about current practices in the marketplace. This information will guide us as we determine how any potential rebates should be structure,” Starks said in a statement. Gomez did not issue a statement.

DirecTV offered blacked out customers $25 gift cards and free antennas.