Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz urges Governor Hochul to generate more protections for cable TV subscribers amidst service blackouts

Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz penned a letter to New York State Governor Kathy Hochul for more consumer protections in cable provider service blackouts.
(Photo by Kevin P. Coughlin / Office of the Governor)

Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, who represents Corona, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and portions of Middle Village and Rego Park, is urging Governor Kathy Hochul to consider adding more protections for cable television subscribers affected by service blackouts.

A letter sent to Hochul on Tuesday, Mar. 5, references the contract dispute between Charter Communications Inc. and The Walt Disney Company that took place last year. Cruz uses the company dispute as a means to emphasize a need to hold cable television services accountable for refunding customers for lost access.

The conflict between the two network giants forced millions of Charter’s Spectrum TV customers to lose access to television channels owned by Disney, some of which included ABC, ESPN and other commonly watched channels. Loss of access to popular television channels left 14.7 million people in the dark, according to numbers shared by the company in numerous reports last year.

In September, an agreement between the two companies reinstated access to channels that customers had lost and led Spectrum to compensate its customers for the service disruptions. However, Assemblywoman Cruz claims customers are still waiting to receive their rebates in her letter to Hochul.

“During the blackout, you rightly gave voice to the frustrations of many customers and directed the Department of Public Service (DPS) to ensure Charter issued rebates,” Cruz writes. “Since then, however, there has been no public accounting of how many eligible customers received rebates, and how many are still waiting.”

Customers who were impacted by the blackouts last year did receive a $5 rebate from the cable provider that reflected in user accounts through an automated funding process. A statement provided by a spokesperson for Spectrum explained the measures taken to refund customers and encouraged them to contact the company directly.

“During the blackout, we worked with affected customers who contacted us individually to provide them credit for programming they had lost. Once we reached a new agreement, we automatically provided credit to customers who had lost programming and hadn’t already received credits, based on their programming packages,” a spokesperson for Spectrum told QNS. “We completed those credits within a week or so of the new agreement. If any our customers have further questions regarding programming lost during the blackout, we urge them to contact us directly.”

As the landscape of subscription services, including cable television and streaming platforms, expands, Cruz is steadfast in urging the Governor to enact further legislative measures to safeguard consumers against limitations in service offerings.

“If customers pay for a service, they should get what they pay for,” Cruz writes to Hochul. “We urge you to advance policies that protect this fundamental principle for our state’s cable customers.”

Cruz also recognizes the work of Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel in her letter, who oversees the regulation of interstate and international communications.

Two proposals presented by Rosenworcel in October 2023, sought to find a way to require cable providers to issue rebates in the case of blackouts, and for multi-channel cable providers to notify the FCC when a blackout occurs within 24 hours or more.

The argument in favor of the proposals states a failure from the companies to reach a retransmission consent agreement, according to the FCC.

Governor Hochul has approved legislative measures to protect consumers in the past. In December 2023, Hochul signed four pieces of legislation to protect consumers from unfair business practices. One piece of legislation mandated providers to warn customers of automatic subscription renewals and to provide clear instructions for cancelation.

Hochul also asked the Department of Public Service last year to make sure New York consumers affected by the cable dispute with Disney receive refunds for disrupted service. Her office did confirm the Governor is in receipt of the letter by Assemblywoman Cruz.