FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va., Oct 5, 2001 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Cox Communications Vice President and General Manager Gary McCollum today informed Allbritton Communications that Cox will not remove WJLA/ABC-7 from the cable system, as Allbritton has demanded, because Allbritton cannot legally terminate Cox's rights to carry WJLA on October 6, as it has threatened to do.
Further, McCollum proposed that the two companies engage a professional mediator to help reach an agreement on Cox's carriage of WJLA and NewsChannel 8, to avoid Allbritton's pulling its signal and unnecessarily inconveniencing Cox's more than 240,000 Fairfax County customers.
The notice of termination issued by Allbritton on Oct. 1 is legally insufficient, McCollum stated. In his letter to Allbritton President and COO Frederick J. Ryan, McCollum wrote, "Courts have consistently held that when an agreement does not specify termination provisions, as in the case with [our] month-to-month renewals, the terminating party is legally required to provide the other party with notice that is reasonable under the circumstances. We believe under no circumstances could it be construed that your five-day notice to delete the signal is reasonable."
McCollum's letter continued, "The Federal Communications Commission's rules require that we provide our customers with 30 days notice before we delete a broadcast signal, and we have similar obligations under our local franchise agreements. This obligation makes it impermissible to drop the signal on October 6. Moreover, such a short period surely amounts to what is a punitive stance with our customers and your viewers."
Cox and Allbritton have been negotiating in good faith for the renewal of Cox's carriage agreement for WJLA since July, when Allbritton informed Cox it had completed its carriage deal with Comcast Corporation, "freeing up time and allowing [Allbritton] to focus attention on Fairfax County." The companies had recently agreed in principle on terms of an agreement for carriage of WJLA. However, Allbritton has since refused to sign it unless Cox also accepts onerous carriage terms for Allbritton's NewsChannel 8. Cox has maintained it simply wants to receive the same overall deal terms for the carriage of NewsChannel 8 that Allbritton has given to other cable companies in the Washington area. On Tuesday, Allbritton took the private negotiations public, threatening to pull the signal for both channels on Saturday unless Cox accepts its demands.
In his letter to Allbritton's President, McCollum noted that FCC rules and the Telecommunications Act of 1996 do not allow Allbritton to pull its signal until at least after the November sweeps ratings period. "The 30-day notice obligation will carry us into the November sweeps. The FCC has made clear that cable operators are not permitted to drop a broadcast station during the sweeps period. Consequently, we cannot legally comply with your demand to cease carriage of WJLA until after the November sweeps."
In offering to enter mediation with Allbritton, McCollum stated, "We want to resolve this dispute without disruption to our customers and your viewers."
In on-air and on-line messages to Cox customers yesterday, McCollum pledged that Cox would do everything in its power to prevent Allbritton from pulling the plug on WJLA and NewsChannel 8. "We know that you value ABC programming and local news, and we want to continue bringing both channels to you - uninterrupted. But the truth is that, as the owner of these channels, Allbritton Communications is the one with the power to pull the plug. We are working around the clock to prevent Allbritton from taking your channels. We are pleading with Allbritton to come back to the table, to listen to reason, and to not take drastic steps that callously affect the residents of Fairfax County."
Cox Communications' Northern Virginia operation serves more than 260,000 customers in Fairfax County, the cities of Fairfax, Falls Church, Fredericksburg, the towns of Herndon and Vienna, and parts of Stafford and Spotsylvania counties.
Cox Communications Scott Broyles, 703/378-3961