Verizon warns of potential Cox Media station blackout on Fios

Verizon this week is warning customers that Cox Media Group stations could be blacked out on Fios systems in certain markets if the two companies don’t reach a new retransmission consent agreement.

Verizon said negotiations to come to fair terms have been ongoing and claims Cox proposed “unreasonable rate increases” to carry stations in Boston, Rhode Island and Pittsburgh on Verizon Fios.

The current agreement expires December 15.

Stations at risk of going dark include WFXT Fox in Boston and Rhode Island, WPXI NBC in Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Cable News Channel.

According to Verizon, if the companies don’t reach a deal before the existing one expires, nearly 340,000 Fios customers will be impacted and at risk of losing the CMG stations.

“For nearly two decades, broadcasters like Cox have forced cable and satellite providers – and their customers – to pay unreasonably high fees to access local stations. Broadcasters often remove their channels from consumers until TV providers agree to pay more – even though the same channels are available for free over the air,” Verizon said in a statement.

“Verizon remains committed to making these channels available to our customers, but simply cannot agree to such unreasonable increases,” the statement continued.  “If Cox does not agree to fair terms by December 15, their stations may temporarily be removed from Fios.”

As for CMG, the company remains optimistic that the companies will come to new terms. 

"We have been negotiating productively with Verizon for several weeks and remain optimistic we will come to terms on a fair market deal to keep our award-winning local news, investigative journalism, and popular sports and entertainment programming on FiOS TV," Cox Media said in a statement. 

Retransmission consent disputes and channel blackouts are not uncommon as broadcasters and pay TV providers butt heads about rising costs.

Verizon Fios customers in 10 markets experienced a two-week black out of Nexstar Media Group-owned stations in this fall. The two eventually reached a multi-year deal in late October that included 13 local TV stations and national cable news network NewsNation, with channels restored for more than 3 million Fios customers.

Cox Media Group itself is in the midst of a separate retrans dispute with Dish, which saw stations pulled from the satellite pay TV provider’s systems in nine markets at the end of November.

Dish has argued that Cox is demanding a “massive” fee increase that would end up raising prices for Dish TV customers to access the broadcaster’s local channels.

For its part, CMG said it asked Dish to agree to a fair-market deal consistent with what the company has offered to competitors, and also repeatedly asked the TV provider to continue carrying stations while negotiations proceeded.

“Let me be clear – despite their numerous false claims, it was solely Dish’s decision to remove CMG’s best-in-class TV stations from its service,” stated Paul Curran, EVP of television at Cox Media Group, last month.

DirecTV is another pay TV provider embroiled in disputes with broadcasters to carry stations, including channel blackouts involving White Knight Broadcasting and Mission Broadcasting – which together impacted an estimated 1.3 million customers.

Article updated with comment from Cox Media.