FCC rules for WPGA-TV Macon must-carry


WPGA-TV Macon, GA, a former ABC affiliate which has been independent since January, has won an important FCC decision in its battle to remain on the market’s Cox cable system. The decision is also one that will likely be taken note of by other broadcasters and cable systems when negotiating carriage contracts.

When we last reported on the case, a state court had issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) to maintain the status quo – keeping WPGA on Cox’s basic channel 6 and digital channel 706 until the case was decided. The court later decided that the contract which Lowell Register’s company had signed with Cox was straightforward and dismissed the case. However, the TRO was left in place, pending appeal.

That contract is at the heart of the matter. WPGA had signed to receive retransmission consent payments from Cox, but when it lost the local ABC affiliation the cable company said it would continue to pay the retrans fee, but wouldn’t carry the station on its system. Register, however, insisted that WPGA had to stay on the Cox system as a must-carry station.

The FCC has now ruled that the contract signed in January 2009 didn’t really matter – that a station can’t change its carriage election outside the set deadline and that since WPGA didn’t formally file a carriage election for the 2009-2011 cycle prior to October 1, 2008 it defaulted to must-carry status. So, Cox must continue to carry WPGA.

However, the FCC declined to get into the dispute over whether WPGA has a right to remain on channel 6 on the Cox system. The station was not carried by Cox prior to 1995, so the FCC said its carriage options are its DTV virtual channel, 58, or “such other channel number as is mutually agreed upon by the station and cable operator.” The FCC said it would leave the dispute over the contractual terms regarding channel placement for the courts to decide.

Lowell Register is celebrating the outcome. “Our case is now much stronger in the appeal process.  We are still on channel 6 and 706 until that is settled.  We also must be carried on the basic service on cable channels 2-19 since channel 58 is not a basic service on Cox cable,” he told RBR-TVBR after the ruling was announced on Friday.