Appeals Court overturns ruling in Cox-WPGA dispute

pramati@macon.comJuly 17, 2013 

WPGA President Lowell Register, seen here in 2002, called the Georgia Court of Appeals decision to overturn a Bibb County Superior Court ruling from 2012 that granted Cox Communications’ motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by WPGA-TV/Peach Radio over a breach of contract a “victory.”

ROBERT SEAY — The Telegraph

The Georgia Court of Appeals this week overturned a Bibb County Superior Court ruling from 2012 that had granted Cox Communications’ motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by WPGA-TV/Peach Radio over a breach of contract between the two entities.

Grant Greenwood, the attorney for WPGA, said Wednesday the court of appeals ruled 5-2 that the lower court was incorrect in its earlier ruling.

The decision means the lawsuit filed by WPGA in an attempt to stay on Cox’s lineup on Channels 6 and 1006 will be returned to the Bibb County court, Greenwood said.

“WPGA canceled the contract with Cox because of a material breach when Cox threatened its removal from the lineup,” Greenwood said.

Cox spokeswoman Mary Bowman Hampton said Wednesday the company is contemplating its next move.

“We are currently reviewing the court’s opinion so we can make the best decision for our customers,” Hampton said.

The ruling is the latest twist in a series of legal battles between Cox and WPGA that began in late 2009 when WPGA decided it would no longer carry ABC’s programming in the Middle Georgia area. WPGA didn’t want to pay a $500,000 fee to the network, and officially stopped broadcasting ABC’s programming on Jan. 1, 2010, running syndicated programming in lieu of ABC programming.

Cox wanted to remove WPGA from its lineup and use Channels 6 and 1006 to continue broadcasting ABC in the midstate, since WGXA picked up the network’s programming.

WPGA tried unsuccessfully to argue that it’s a “must carry” station, meaning Cox had no right to drop it from the lineup. WPGA lost twice in Bibb County Superior Court and once previously with the appeals court before this week’s decision when it was ruled that WPGA had entered into a “retransmission consent” agreement with Cox, which would give the cable company the option of dropping the TV station.

Cox has previously said once it moves ABC back to Channels 6 and 1006, it would move the network from its current spot at Channels 15 and 1015. It would then repurpose the extra bandwidth in order to carry additional cable channels.

Greenwood said by reinstating the lawsuit, it restores WPGA as a must-carry station in the market. He said he didn’t know when the case would be heard in Superior Court, but hoped it might be sometime in August.

WPGA President Lowell Register said the court of appeals ruling is a “victory from our standpoint,” but he doesn’t expect the dispute to be settled any time soon. He said Cox likely would “do whatever they have to do” to challenge the ruling.

“At this point, it means they ruled in our favor,” he said. “It’s been a long deal.”

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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