Since October 1, Missouri subscribers to DISH Network have been without one of the most popular stations on the local broadcast dial: Fox Sports Midwest.
DISH and FSM (which airs the St. Louis Cardinals, Blues and Missouri Tigers) have been in a pissing match since last year over the rates the sports network charges the satellite provider. Last October DISH blacked out several Blues hockey games during a similar skirmish and has done the same this month. Also off the air is the National Geographic Channel. (Read FSM's take on the controversy here.)
Needless to say, the blackout of Missouri's favorite sports teams has enraged couch potatoes across the Show-Me State -- including Attorney General Chris Koster. In a letter fired off to DISH Network yesterday, Koster warned the company that it is violating a July 2009 "assurance of voluntary compliance" agreement to air Fox Sports Midwest.
Says Chris "hey-I-can-relate-to-Joe-six-pack" Koster: "Whether they are watching our undefeated Mizzou Tigers roll through the Big 12 or watching Shark Hunters on Expedition Great White, these stations are important pieces in a consumers' TV choices. Our job is to stand up for Missouri consumers."
The attorney general argues that subscribers entered the contract believing the channels would be provided throughout their term of service. Now that the channels are gone, Koster is demanding that DISH allow its subscribers to end their service without incurring cancellation fees and/or to reduce their rates to reflect the savings DISH has garnered since canceling broadcast of the stations.
This afternoon, DISH Network responded to Koster in a statement, saying:
It's unfortunate that FOX pulled its channels off DISH Network at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 1. The loss of FOX regional sports channels is completely out of our control. We asked FOX to leave the channels up while we negotiated for a fair deal and FOX refused.
If anyone owes our customers a refund, it's FOX and not just for service fees but for the inconvenience of denying our Missouri customers access to the undefeated Missouri Tigers.
FOX is owned by News Corporation, a global media cartel that has demanded exorbitant rate increases from TV distributors nationwide. It also pulled this same stunt with Cablevision customers in NY this month and threatened a blackout for Time Warner customers last December.
Numerous public policy groups and Congressional and state leaders from different parts of the country have called for FOX to stop holding its viewers hostage and return the channels to the air while the companies negotiate.
In this economy, we feel a strong obligation to protect our customers from unreasonable expenses like the enormous rate increase of more than 50 percent FOX is demanding for its regional sports channels. We ask for our customers' patience and support while we work to reach a fair deal.