A dispute between two large media companies has kicked local stations off some local televisions.
To the annoyance of thousands of Suddenlink customers, access to two local stations – KIEM (Channel 3) and KVIQ (Channel 6) — disappeared Jan. 8 and Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson brought the matter to the attention of the Board of Supervisors at its meeting Tuesday, though the board has no real power over the situation.
The stations are owned by Cox Media Group Broadcasting, which reportedly wants more money for programming fees than Suddenlink is willing to pay. An online statement from Suddenlink described the increases as “exorbitant.”
“This disruption in service prevents residents from receiving local programming and news, which is especially important considering local conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” states a county staff report.
Over the past 15 years, the ability of local governments to regulate media companies has been superseded by new state and and federal laws. Stations that were once independently owned and operated were bought and sold by large corporations. In 2014, California passed the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act (DIVCA), basically giving the state more control over cable companies' operations.
In 2019, North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman attempted to bring back some local control with a bill dubbed the “Local and Independent Television Protection Act,” though it did not pass. A spokesperson from Hufffman’s office said he is currently speaking to Cox Media and trying to remedy the problem.
County Deputy Administrative Officer Sean Quincey confirmed that the problem was a “breakdown in contract negotiations between two large corporations” — adding that local government had little or no legal authority to intervene.
“DIVCA has eviscerated local jurisdictions’ authority to protect ourselves. It took away all the oversight that the counties and the cities have” commented
Access Humboldt Executive Director Sean McLaughlin. He noted that the rates charged by Suddenlink to transmit local programming have increased dramatically over the past few months.
“Six local stations in Eureka are now owned by two absentee owners," McLaughlin said. "Sinclair owns four and Cox Media Group owns two. What can Humboldt do about it? Not much. ... You used to be able to talk to the owners of the stations. Part of the frustration now is that there’s nobody local you can talk to. You have to call Texas or Atlanta to talk to management.”
The supervisors unanimously authorized sending two letters — one to Huffman and the other to Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla, asking them to promote legislation that would give some control back to local communities.
“We need our federal and state policymakers to recognize the essential role that
local media play to meet local needs for: public health and safety; education; economic and community development; culture and arts; and civic engagement. Local governments and our communities stand ready to take back local media and rebuild our information ecosystem to secure competition, diversity and localism in the marketplace of ideas,” said the letter to the senators, which was signed by Board Chair Virginia Bass.