Cox Faces La. Retrans Suit

In the latest chapter of an ongoing retransmission-consent dispute, Bossier City and Bossier Parish, La., are suing Cox Communications Inc. for dropping NBC affiliate KTAL-TV.

Those municipal governments are alleging that Cox is in violation of its franchise agreement for not carrying Shreveport, La.-based KTAL, which is owned by Nexstar Broadcasting Group Inc.

Local officials are charging that the cable operator’s 1977 and 1978 franchise agreements, respectively, with the city and parish mandate that it carry all of the “Big Three” broadcast networks -- ABC, NBC and CBS.

“It’s not that we really have any concern with Cox’s disagreements with the parent company of NBC, or, at least, the local distributor of the NBC channel,” Bossier Parish attorney Patrick Jackson said Tuesday. “It’s just a matter of requiring them to follow the franchise agreements that they signed.”

Cox’s retransmission-consent pact for KTAL-TV expired Feb. 1, and the operator stopped carrying the station at that time, impacting 33,000 subscribers in that Louisiana market.

“When the folks lost their NBC channel, we received a number of phone calls,” Jackson said. “I mean many, many phone calls. And we received a few calls just to the opposite, ‘Please don’t get involved in this, we don’t want our cable rates to go up.’ But it’s just a matter of [the fact that] we have a duty to enforce the agreements we sign. We asked for specific performance of the franchise agreement.”

The situation in Shreveport is part of a battle that actually kicked off Jan. 1, when several retransmission-consent deals expired between Nexstar and Cox, as well as Cable One Inc., and the broadcaster pulled its signal for several stations that it either owns or manages for Mission Broadcasting Inc. For example, Cable One had to delete KTAL at the start of the year.

Nexstar is asking for a 30-cent per-month, per-subscriber license fee from both MSOs for its stations.

“We have no interest in getting involved in the disputes between Cox and Nexstar,” Jackson said. “We hope that this will be an incentive [for them to settle]. If we had an agreement with KTAL that it would always be provided on cable TV, we’d be suing them, as well. But we don’t.”

Cox hasn’t been served with the Bossier lawsuit yet, so spokesman David Grabert declined to comment. Officials at Bossier City and Bossier Parish couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

Cox has filed a complaint against Nexstar with the Federal Communications Commission, claiming that the broadcaster isn’t negotiating in good faith. Nexstar filed an answer, maintaining that it is.