Dish Exploits Cox’s Pain

With no end in sight for a bitter retransmission-consent dispute, EchoStar Communications Corp. last week exploited the situation by offering a local TV station in the Abilene-Sweetwater, Texas, DMA that Cox Communications Inc. was forced to drop earlier this year.

The Dish Network provider will be offering NBC affiliate KRBC, a Mission Broadcasting Inc. station managed by the Nexstar Broadcasting Group Inc., along with the other major local broadcast stations in Abilene.

Cox and Cable One Inc. are in the midst of a retransmission-consent battle with Nexstar, with both operators forced to drop several TV stations when their old deals expired Dec. 31.

In announcing it was offering local signals in Abilene, EchoStar said: “Television viewers in the Abilene-Sweetwater area who want to watch NBC have two choices — rabbit ears or the crystal clear, all-digital quality of Dish Network at a price still lower than cable.”

There was another development in the ongoing dispute, with Bossier City and Bossier Parish, La., now suing Cox for dropping NBC affiliate KTAL-TV. Those municipal governments allege Cox is in violation of its franchise agreement for not carrying Shreveport, La.-based KTAL, owned by Nexstar.

Local officials maintain the cable operator’s 1977 and 1978 franchise agreements with the city and parish, respectively, mandate that it carry all of the “Big Three” broadcast networks — ABC, NBC and CBS.

“It’s not that we really have any concern with Cox’s disagreements with the parent company of NBC, or, at least, the local distributor of the NBC channel,” Bossier Parish attorney Patrick Jackson said last week. “It’s just a matter of requiring them to follow the franchise agreements that they signed.”

Cox spokesman David Grabert said it was unfortunate that Bossier officials filed the suit, and it would have been more fruitful for the city and parish to instead have urged Nexstar to come to the bargaining table.

Cox’s retransmission-consent pact for KTAL-TV expired Feb. 1, and the operator stopped carrying the station at that time, impacting 33,000 subscribers in that Louisiana market.

“When the folks lost their NBC channel, we received a number of phone calls,” Jackson said.

“I mean many, many phone calls. And we received a few calls just to the opposite, 'Please don’t get involved in this, we don’t want our cable rates to go up.’ ”

Nexstar is asking for a 30-cent-per-month, per-subscriber license fee from both MSOs for its stations.

Cox has filed a complaint against Nexstar with the Federal Communications Commission, claiming the broadcaster isn’t negotiating in good faith. Nexstar filed an answer, maintaining that it is.

Last week, Cox filed a 28-page rebuttal to Nexstar’s answer with the FCC, charging that Nexstar favors “sensationalist mudslinging over private discussion.”