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home : local news : local news October 19, 2019

1/18/2007 1:03:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
Congress may get into dispute over ABC cable issue

By RANDY HARRISON
Daily News

An area cable provider hopes efforts by federal lawmakers will help return the ABC television network to local viewers.

Mediacom dropped Champaign ABC affiliate WICD (Channel 15) Jan. 6 after failing to reach a settlement with the station's owner, Sinclair Broadcasting. As a result, local viewers are missing new episodes of shows such as "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy."

The company has contacted several congressmen and is encouraging customers to write their legislators to bring pressure on Sinclair to enter binding arbitration.

But after a week and a half, there is nothing new to report, Mediacom Senior Manager for Government Relations Ester Viles told the Daily News.

"We're still trying to stay on top of things," Viles said. "We're still going through all the procedures we feel are correct."

Mediacom's dispute with Sinclair is over pricing. Until December, Sinclair allowed Mediacom to carry its stations for no charge, according to a letter from Mediacom's Southern Division Senior Vice President Jim Carey.

"They are now demanding that we pay much more than we are paying any other broadcaster and, we believe, more than any other comparably sized cable company is paying them," he wrote.

"We have presented a number of reasonable offers to Sinclair over the last few months, all of which have been rejected," Carey added. "These offers have ranged from cash payments, to the same terms and conditions we have negotiated with other broadcasters in these same markets, to binding arbitration, all to no avail."

"Sinclair is asking for an unfair price to carry its broadcast," Mediacom representative Danielle Westerbreck said. "If we had agreed we would have had to up the prices we charge customers."

When an agreement could not be reached, Sinclair demanded Mediacom drop its broadcasts from the lineup, including WICD.

Crawford County cable viewers are not alone. The dispute has also forced Mediacom to drop two other ABC affiliates in Illinois and channels carrying either that network or Fox in a dozen other states.

Westerbreck did not know exactly how much Sinclair was seeking, but did say it was considered excessive.

Should Sinclair agree to binding arbitration, Viles said WICD would be back on the air here as soon as possible once an agreement was reached. In the meantime, Mediacom is providing customers with antennas that will allow them to pick up an ABC affiliate over the air. These are available at the Robinson office, 101 W. Walnut, or by ordering them through Mediacom's web site (http://www.befairsinclair.com/).

Asked if Mediacom could replace WICD with another ABC station, Viles said federal regulations now prohibit them from bringing in another affiliate unless it is already being watched over the air by a certain percentage of residents. There are no such "significantly-viewed" ABC stations in the Crawford County area.

Sinclair, in a message posted on the corporation's web site, puts the blame on Mediacom, pointing out it was able to reach agreements with other cable companies.

"You are paying Mediacom quite a bit of money every month in order to receive programming," the message said. "Mediacom takes that money and uses it to pay the cable channels, such as Animal Planet, MTV and HGTV. We believe, and the ratings certainly support the view, that the programming broadcast by the Sinclair Stations, is much more important to you.

"The Sinclair stations may be free over-the-air, but Mediacom wants to sell them to you and we think they should have to pay to acquire an asset before they sell it. You are paying Mediacom in order to receive programming including this station; shouldn't they use your money to buy the programming that is most important to you?"

Mediacom is also urging customers to be patient and not switch providers.

Sinclair, meanwhile, is urging viewers to change to a satellite TV provider if they want to see ABC programs and has even gone so far as to offer a $100 rebate to former Mediacom customers who make the switch.



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