Rates prompt change in cable lineup

Published 6:35 am Thursday, January 5, 2012

Viewers in Pike County will no longer find WTVY on their list of channels and people in Coffee County won’t be able to watch WAKA any longer.

“Let me make something clear. It wasn’t by choice,” said Jimmy Copeland, director of special projects at Troy CableVision.

In 1992, under the Cable Television Protection and Competition Act, the Federal Communications Commission began allowing television stations to charge a retransmission fee to cable companies who carried their signal. However, local stations didn’t put that option into play until three years ago, according to Dick Freeman, president of Troy CableVision.

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Now, television stations in Montgomery and Dothan are charging one retransmission fee per customer for in-market locations and another fee for out-of-market locations. And retransmission fees have gone up again this year – from 45 percent increases to 400 percent increases.

Freeman explained that by dropping WTVY for Pike and Crenshaw counties and WAKA for Coffee and Dale counties, customers won’t see a rate hike because of a duplicate station charging out-of-market fees.

“It’s truly about the customers,” said Myrna Cowen, controller for Troy CableVision. “How many CBS’s do they want to pay for?”

The number of channels customers pay for won’t decrease, though. Copeland said Troy CableVision is currently looking at rearranging the channels it works with and also considering adding new options.

Aside from the monetary aspect, there is another reason for the station change. A television station legally has the right to prevent another station with the same network affiliation from being duplicate broadcast in their designated market area. So legally, a Dothan station can prevent Montgomery programming in their DMA and vice versa.

One affiliate has exercised that right, but Freeman said he didn’t want to reveal more because the cable company is currently reviewing documents and contracts.

Viewers outside of the Montgomery DMA will continue to receive WSFA because there isn’t a local NBC affiliate in other areas, Freeman said.

The push for higher retransmission fees and DMA exclusivity isn’t a problem that is solely local. Freeman said there has been extra pressure put on local stations by their networks to contribute more.

“They are caught in the middle, just like we are,” Freeman said. “They are trying to get their costs back and we are trying to keep ours, and our customers’, low. You can tell it has gotten out of hand.”

In 2006, broadcasters nationwide pocketed $216 million in retransmission fees.

That number skyrocketed to an estimated $1.3 billion in 2011, according to Phillip Napoli of Fordham University’s Graduate School of Business.

Freeman blames what he calls “antiquated laws,” citing there has been no change in almost 20 years.

Freeman suggests viewers log on to americantelevisionalliance.org and voice their opinions to the FCC and Congress about changing the current laws.

“We’re trying to do the best we can for us, and for our customers,” Freeman said.