Federal lawmakers call on AT&T to end blackout of Local 44, other stations

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A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Washington are asking AT&T to end its DirecTV blackout of Nexstar television stations in 97 markets, including Vermont, northern New York and western New Hampshire.

Local 44, the Champlain Valley’s Nexstar station, went dark on DirectTV just before midnight July 3 when negotiations over a new distribution agreement with AT&T broke down.

On Tuesday, New York Rep. Anthony Brindisi urged the two sides to return service to DirecTV customers while negotiations continue in a letter to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and Nexstar Media Group CEO Perry Sook.

“I encourage your companies to negotiate a fair deal that returns these channels to the airwaves as soon as possible,” Brindisi wrote.

On Twitter, Brindisi, a Democrat representing New York’s 22nd Congressional District, called the blackout “a public safety issue.”

In his letter to Stephenson, Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy urged AT&T to accept Nexstar’s offer of a short-term extension of the current agreement while negotiations continue.

Keep Local 44: How to Help

Like Brindisi, Kennedy said he was not taking sides in the contract dispute, but was concerned about DirectTV subscribers failing to get the latest news and weather information.

“I am concerned that your failure to reach an agreement is negatively impacting Louisiana families,” he wrote. “I am especially concerned about customers losing access to up-to-date weather information in the event that the tropical depression currently forming in the Gulf of Mexico turns into a hurricane.” 

Nexstar says AT&T/DirecTV has rejected its offer to relaunch its stations through August 8 while the two sides continue negotiations.

The blackout has generated outrage among DirecTV subscribers, who were denied access to Sunday’s Women’s World Cup final, in which the U.S. team won it’s fourth title.

“This cutoff seems to have the sole purpose of enhancing DirecTV bargaining leverage – with severe harm to Connecticut consumers,” he said.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut

Viewers in 20 markets will also be blacked out of Tuesday’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game, Nexstar said in a statement, unless service is restored.

Nexstar said it has offered AT&T/DIRECTV the same retransmission rates it offered to other distribution partners with whom it reached agreement in 2019. But, the company said, AT&T has rejected it.

AT&T acquired DirecTV in 2015. Three years later, the communications giant received approval to buy Time Warner for $85 billion over the antitrust objections of federal regulators.

Two weeks later, AT&T raised monthly rates on subscribers of DirecTV’s streaming packages by $5. 

Nexstar says such moves show AT&T is leveraging its market power — its market capitalization is roughly 50 times that of Nexstar — “to prioritize its own content at the expense of consumers, and insisting on unreasonable and extreme terms that are inconsistent with the market.”

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut echoed that view in a July 5 letter to AT&T, calling the blackouts “unfair and unnecessary.”

“This cutoff seems to have the sole purpose of enhancing DirecTV bargaining leverage – with severe harm to Connecticut consumers,” he said.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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