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Cable Company Files HD Complaint

A cable operator in South Carolina claimed that it won’t be able to show the Super Bowl in HD because the local Fox affiliate has signed an exclusive carriage agreement with Time Warner Cable.

Horry Telephone Cooperative Inc. recently filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission alleging that WFXB in Myrtle Beach, S.C., has violated federal rules by withholding the HD feed based on an exclusive deal with Time Warner.

Brent Groome, HTC’s chief executive of customer operations, said ads are running on WFXB trumpeting Time Warner’s exclusive HD rights to the Super Bowl and the Daytona 500.

“From an image-brand perspective, that’s a big deal for us,” he added.

Federal rules prohibit TV stations from signing exclusive retransmission-consent deals and require all parties to negotiate in good faith.

In an emergency complaint, HTC has accused WFXB (owned by GE Media Inc.) of violating both rules. According to a Jan. 19 public notice, the FCC wants WFXB’s response no later than Jan. 24 and HTC’s reply, if necessary, no later than Jan. 26.

Because the Super Bowl is Feb. 6, the FCC evidently wants to resolve the dispute quickly. “I am thankful for that,” Groome said.

WFXB spokesman David Carfolite did not return a reporter’s call. A Time Warner spokesman did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Groome explained that his cable company, with 35,000 subscribers, competes head-to-head with Time Warner in certain portions of the franchise area. Time Warner is totally deregulated in the market, meaning that it is subject to effective competition under federal law based on HTC’s overbuild penetration in excess of 15% of local households.

HTC carries WFXB in analog, meaning that the vast majority of its subscribers would be able to view the Super Bowl. But HTC customers who have invested in HDTV monitors would not get the game in HD.

“We feel that this is wrong,” Groome said. “Our customers don’t deserve this.”

However, HTC customers with HD tuners theoretically could see the game with antennas.