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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, April 20, 2014

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In Movies & TV Commentary

Starting on Thursday, the Game Show Network will be on Channel 4 on Time Warner Cable. WTMJ-TV's signal has been blocked out for three weeks.

Journal asks state to force Time Warner to credit customers


Today, Journal Broadcast Group, through its law firm of Godfrey and Kahn, sent a letter to the Wisconsin Department of Justice asking the state to step in to assist Time Warner Cable subscribers seeking credit for its blocked out stations.

In the letter, the Journal explains that for the past three weeks that WTMJ-TV Ch. 4 in Milwaukee and WGBA-TV Ch. 26 and WACY-TV Ch. 32 in Green Bay has been blocked to Time Warner Cable subscribers as a negotiation tactic by the cable outlet during retransmission talks.

"On July 25, 2013, Time Warner Cable unilaterally removed Channel 4 from its Milwaukee area video programming lineup and eliminated the Green Bay stations as well, even though Journal Broadcast gave Time Warner permission to continue carriage while the parties worked to negotiate a resolution," the letter stated.

"Time Warner Cable took this termination action solely as a result of stalled negotiations between Journal Broadcast and Time Warner for the retransmission of these stations' signals to Time Warner customers, which resulted from Time Wamer's failure to engage in good faith negotiations. This action has resulted in hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin cable subscribers being without access for the last three weeks, including coverage of important local news and NBC prime time programming on Journal Broadcast's stations."

In the meantime, Time Warner Cable announced it will be moving the Game Show Network to the slots on the guide that were once occupied by WTMJ and WGBA. Also, the cable provider will be offering a free preview of Starz Kids & Family for households affected by the block out. Starz Kids & Family will be available on Ch. 994 and Ch. 999 in Milwaukee.

"We thank our customers for their patience and support as we continue to negotiate on their behalf for a reasonable agreement with Journal Broadcasting," said Jack Herbert, regional VP of operations for Time Warner Cable in the Midwest. "We hope that customers enjoy Starz Kids & Family on their channel lineup, as we work to end Journal's prolonged broadcaster blackout."

The lineup changes take effect on Thursday.

Through its letter, Journal Communications is making the claim that Time Warner Cable isn't offering refunds of fees for customers who are seeking it.

"As you know, cable television programming is regulated both by Wisconsin law and administrative regulations. Section 100.209 of the Wisconsin Statutes requires video programming service providers to compensate customers for any interruption of service lasting more than four hours in a single day. See Wis. Stat. 100.209(2)(b).

"Notwithstanding the statute's mandate and other applicable law, Time Warner has flatly denied consumer requests for credit of the amounts Time Warner continues to charge customers for programming it is no longer delivering. As indicated in the attached correspondence from Time Warner's counsel, Time Warner claims – incredibly – that the statute applies to a 'total service outage,'" the letter read.

Last week, a group of citizens put together a class action suit against Time Warner in the Milwaukee County Circuit Court.

"A group of Wisconsin customers already has commenced a class action lawsuit against Time Warner in the Milwaukee County Circuit Court with no involvement by Journal Broadcast. See Delonge et al v. Time Warner Cable Business, LLC et al., Milwaukee County Case No. l3CV73l3. They seek damages under the statute and other relief," the letter read.

"Given the immediate, continuing and irreparable impact on Wisconsin consumers, we request that the Department of Justice commence an enforcement action to require Time Warner to fulfill its statutory obligations to provide Wisconsin customers with a credit for the service they have been denied and to stop charging for programming it is not providing.

"We are not asking the Department of Justice to 'take sides' in the negotiations between Journal Broadcast and Time Warner. We are asking that you follow the lead of a long line of attorneys general and the Department's leadership that has been consistently on the side of the Wisconsin consumer."

Journal Broadcasting Group may not be asking state officials to take sides in this debate, but the current customers of the Journal and Time Warner Cable are being tugged both ways as they are seemingly stuck in the middle.

"Today, we've asked the state to stand up for consumers who are now paying for something they are not receiving," said Steve Wexler, the executive vice president of the Journal Broadcast Group and the GM of WTMJ.

"At the same time, we continue to work towards a resolution with Time Warner and ask them again to engage with us in productive negotiations so we can put this issue behind us for the benefit of our viewers and their customers."

Time Warner Cable offered this response to the letter:

"We look forward to discussing with the Attorney General why the law cited by Journal Broadcasting Group does not apply in this situation, and why Journal persists in misleading its viewers in this way.

"We regret that our customers are being subjected to these falsehoods, and would prefer Journal put as much energy into completing our negotiations as they are in distracting viewers from the real issues."

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