Sen. Blumenthal Urges AT&T to Accept Nexstar Extension

WASHINGTON—Just shy of a week ago, more than 120 Nexstar-owned TV stations went dark for AT&T customers in 97 markets, two of which included WTNH and WCTX in the Hartford-New Haven market of Connecticut, over a retransmission dispute between the two companies. Sen. Richard Blumentahl (D-Conn.), on behalf of his constituents in those areas, recently sent a letter to the heads of both companies asking that the stations go back on the air, at least temporarily.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal

Sen. Richard Blumenthal

When the blackout on DirecTV, DirecTV Now and UVerse TV initially took place on July 3 across the nation, Nexstar said that it had offered AT&T an extension until Aug. 2 to keep the stations on-air as negotiations continued, but AT&T declined. AT&T, meanwhile, has argued that Nexstar is asking for an unfair increase in retransmission fees despite viewership decline on the big four networks over the last five years.

In his letter, Blumenthal, while claiming not to take sides, writes that the denial of service from this blackout is “unfair and unnecessary” to Connecticut residents. He says the two sides should continue to negotiate in good faith and have the stations go back on-air at least until Aug. 2, as originally proposed in Nexstar’s extension.

“This extension will allow parties sufficient time to come to an agreement without barring AT&T/DirecTV consumers from viewing their local news coverage,” Blumenthal writes. “This cutoff seems to have the sole purpose of enhancing DirecTV bargaining leverage—with severe harm to Connecticut consumers.”

Blumenthal does go on to write that he understands that AT&T is reluctant to pay more for the same programming, but that Connecticut residents value their local journalism and broadcasting and that the public interest is best served by returning carriage of WTNH and WCTX “as early as possible.”

He also suggests that while the blackout is going on, DirecTV should refund those impacted by blackout a portion of their monthly bill that is “commensurate” with WTNH and WCTX’s value.