Dominican Channel Seeks Restoration on DirecTV

Televisión Dominicana, a network targeted to Americans with ties to that country, held a rally in New York Monday (Sept. 18) to try to get AT&T to put it back on its DirecTV and U-verse services.

A carriage impasse took the channel off DirecTV and U-verse as Hurricane Irma threatened that country, according to the channel's representatives, who made that point in calling for the channel's return.

"The channel has been dark on DirecTV and U-Verse for the past two weeks, which coincided with one of the worst hurricanes the Dominican Republic has ever seen, leaving people without a direct line to news about Irma," network officials said.

They also tied the impasse to AT&T's proposed purchase of Time Warner. Pending mergers are often used as leverage in carriage disputes, the point being that the merging companies want as few potential regulatory or public relations issues as they try to clear government antitrust, and in many cases FCC public-interest hurdles, though in this case the deal has been structured to avoid FCC review.

The protest was to have featured local Hispanic state and city public officials.

"Blatant disregard for the Dominican community that depends on Televisión Dominicana is at the root of DirecTV and AT&T’s decision-making, as the cost of the channel is a tiny fraction compared with the billions in profits the companies are set to make from the upcoming merger between AT&T and Time Warner," network officials said.

AT&T responded: "We strive to offer the most relevant and engaging content available, changing our offerings to meet our customers’ wishes. We had hoped to continue to offer some TV Dominicana programs, and remain committed to fostering diverse perspectives. DirecTV and U-verse each provide 65 Spanish-language channels, including many that originate in major Hispanic homelands."

An AT&T source called it a case of Televisión Dominicana walking away from the company's offers and noted that DirecTV carries a multitude of diverse channels and carried "pretty extensive" hurricane coverage via those.

"Despite our best efforts to negotiate continued distribution, AT&T's proposals made access to Televisión Dominicana limited and more expensive for the Dominican community," said a spokesman for the network following the protest. "There are 2.3 million Dominicans living in the United States, the fourth largest Spanish-speaking population, but AT&T and DirecTV carry other networks targeting smaller population groups. Among those are three channels from Spain provided by a company partnered with DirecTV, including the channel that replaced Televisión Dominicana. These actions highlight AT&T's disregard for the Dominican community and demonstrate the power AT&T has over independent networks serving underserved communities.  As the Dominican Republic prepares for what could be its second devastating hurricane in two weeks, AT&T and DirecTV consumers remain without access to any local information."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.