Dish Network Tells FCC It Will Seek Arbitration To Resolve NBCU Dispute

Dish Network subscribers may be able to relax a little longer about their ability to see NBCUniversal channels that the programmer has warned may go dark.

The satellite company says today that it told NBCU and the FCC that it will ask an arbitrator to resolve the companies’ retransmission contract dispute. That kicks off a 10-day so-called “cooling off” period: They’ll continue to talk, and the programming remains up while they do.

If there’s no deal when that period is over, then the companies have five days to ask for arbitration. Programming would stay up during those proceedings.

Comcast agreed to this process in 2013 as a condition to win FCC and Justice Department approval of its acquisition of NBCU.

The dispute involves NBC and Telemundo stations the programmer owns in markets including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, and Miami as well as pay TV services including USA, Syfy, Bravo, CNBC, and MSNBC.  Dish’s satellite service has about 13.4 million subscribers.

Dish says in a statement that the cooling-off period “is an opportunity for continued negotiations while guaranteeing that NBCU cannot black out its networks to Dish customers.”

NBCU responded that Dish’s decision “recognizes the great value that NBCUniversal provides their subscribers and is committed to reaching a new distribution agreement. During the FCC-mandated cooling-off period we will continue to negotiate in good faith in hope of a resolution.”

On Tuesday Dish also filed a breach of contract suit in Illinois against NBCU after it publicly charged that the satellite company might drop its channels. (Companies in retransmission fights routinely blame each other for taking programming away from subscribers.) The suit asserts that this violated their 2013 carriage agreement.

That’s damaging, the suit said, because “Dish’s subscribers flood Dish’s customer services lines with questions about the NBCU messages, some subscribers cancel their Dish subscriptions, and Dish’s goodwill as a reliable service provider is eroded,” the suit said.

The pain lasts, it added, because “once a customer changes service providers, Dish cannot get them back.”

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