Media General Files Emergency Enforcement Complaint

Asks FCC to enforce rules on notification when cable operator drops a TV station from lineup

Media General has filed an emergency enforcement complaint with the FCC asking it to enforce its rules on notification when a cable operator drops a TV station from its lineup.

The company filed the complaint against Time Warner, which dropped the station Aug. 11 from systems serving Georgetown, S.C., according to the complaint. Media General also said that Time Warner plans to drop the station from more systems Aug. 20 to make room for other programming.

Media General alleges that Time Warner dropped the station without giving any advance notice to Media General and with insufficient notice to viewers. The cable company counters that it provided ample notice. "We believe we complied with the law. We provided legal notice in several forms regarding the drop," said Time Warner spokeswoman Maureen Huff, who said the company had provided newspaper notice 30 days in advance, as well as serving notice on its local system Web site.

The FCC requires cable operators to inform customers of any change in channel positions in writing at least 30 days in advance if the change "is within the control of the cable operator."

They must also provide written notice to any TV station at least 30 days before dropping or repositioning a station, as well as to its subscribers.

Media General says it first learned the station had been dropped when it received a flood of calls from "disenfranchised viewers."

Media General acknowledged that the cable operator did publish notice of the move in July 7 and July 8 legal notices sections for two local papers, and mailed a postcard to subscribers Aug. 6, but says the former was inadequate since more than 75% of households don't subscribe to the papers and the latter because it hardly provided 30 days notice to a move that came a few days later. Huff said the postcard was simply meant to be a "courtesy notice" following the legal notices that provided the minimum 30-day notice.

Media General spokesman Ray Kozakewicz said Time Warner indicated the stations "were removed in order to free up bandwidth for other services and programming offers."

Time Warner spokeswoman Melissa Buscher told WBTW that the issue was about removing duplicative programming to make room for what their customers wanted.

“This issue is about duplicate programming [Time Warner already carries an in-market CBS affiliate in the affected areas]. WBTW is an out of market affiliate in the Georgetown County Area,“ said Buscher. “By removing the station we’re able to provide more programming options in the future to our customers. To include, faster broadband and more HD services and that’s what out customers have come to expect.“

Kozakewicz said that at press time the station had recieved over 2,000 calls from unhappy viewers, as well as postings on its Web site.