Fed-Up Time Warner Cable Customers File Class-Action Suits

Retrans disputes and blackouts drag on

Time Warner Cable—embroiled in two retransmission consent disputes, one with CBS and the other with Journal Broadcast Group—has its hands full on both fronts as the blackouts drag on.

The cable company is now facing two class action lawsuits for breach of contract in Los Angeles and Milwaukee. Journal has asked the Wisconsin Attorney Journal to step in and force the cable company to give its customers in the state refunds for missed programming.

Since July 25, Journal stations in six markets, including Milwaukee and Green Bay, have been blacked out. Since Aug. 2, more than 3 million Time Warner subscribers in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas have been without CBS programs.

Rhetoric has been heated on all sides over how much broadcasters wish to charge the cable company for its stations. And yet consumers have few options short of buying rabbit ears or switching pay TV services. Congress cannot move quickly and the Federal Communications Commission, despite acting chairwoman Mignon Clyburn's comments last week, has limited authority.

On Wednesday, attorneys for Journal Broadcast Group told Wisconsin Attorney General John Greene that Time Warner "unilaterally removed" the channels from its lineup even though Journal "gave permission to continue carriage while the parties worked to negotiate a resolution." In the letter, Journal attorneys said they weren't asking the AG to take sides but to require the cable company to "provide Wisconsin customers with a credit for the service they have been denied and to stop charging for programming it is not providing," Brady Williamson and Katherine Stadler, attorneys for Godfrey & Kahn, wrote.

Customers in Wisconsin also filed a class action suit against Time Warner Cable on Aug. 8 in Milwaukee County seeking damages and other relief. Plaintiffs Steven Delonge, Paul Scoptur and Stephen Raymonds are asking for a one-day credit for each day the service interruption has lasted more than four hours.

As if that weren't enough, the cable company was hit with a new class action suit filed Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court by three subscribers who said they would not have signed up with Time Warner "if they had known CBS and Showtime were not available as part of the subscription services, or if they had been advised there was a possibility there would be a blackout of this programming."

The plaintiffs, James Armstrong, Michael Pourtemour and Vatsana Bilavam, said in their complaint that the replacement programming "was not a reasonable substitute" for CBS broadcasts.

Time Warner Cable declined comment on the class action suits but said in response to the Journal's letter: "We look forward to discussing with the Attorney General why the law cited by Journal Broadcasting Group does not apply in this situation, and why Journal persists in misleading its viewers in this way. We regret that our customers are being subjected to these falsehoods, and would prefer Journal put as much energy into completing our negotiations as they are in distracting viewers from the real issues."