The Missouri Attorney General has asked Dish Network to allow subscribers to cancel its service without penalty and to inform subscribers they may do so.
AG Chris Koster sent a letter Wednesday informing Dish that the fact it was no longer carrying Fox regional sports nets and could lose access to Fox TV stations was a violation of Dish's July 2009 "assurance of voluntary" compliance agreement to settle charges of unfair and deceptive practices.
"Many subscribers entered into long-term service contracts with Dish Network under the belief that these channels would be provided during their service commitment," he said, adding that if they had known the channels might not be available they would not have entered into the agreement. He also argues that Dish's cost have decreased now that it isn't providing that programming, while subscribers monthly rates have remained unchanged.
He said to make sure the "cessation" of fox programming does not constitute a violation of that agreement, it needs to allow cancellations without cancellation fees.
The No. 2 satellite provider disagreed.
"It's unfortunate that Fox pulled its channels off Dish Network at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 1," Dish responded in a statement. "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."
Fox Networks pulled the plug on FX, National Geographic Channel and 19 Fox Sports Net regional sports channels earlier this month after they failed to come to renewal carriage terms by the Oct. 1 deadline. Dish's retrans deals with Fox come due Nov. 1.
Fox is separately in a carriage fight with Cablevision that has brought a lot of attention from public officials. Koster said he recognized that Dish had substituted other channels for the Fox programming, calling it "some restitution."
But that was not sufficient. "Dish Network has as responsibility to its subscribers to provide the channels they believed they would receive throughout the duration of the contract," he said.
If that became a general assumption by local governments, it could have quite an impact on the cable industry's migration of analog channels to digital.
Dish said that it was not in violation of the compliance agreement: "The negotiations between Dish Network and various Attorneys General that ultimately lead to the 2009 Assurance of Voluntary Compliance specifically recognized that our programming packages change over time. The pay-TV industry is intensely competitive, dynamic and rapidly evolving. Our customers understand that..."