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LIN: Dish Is Likely Dropping Signals March 4

LIN Media has informed Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake that it expects Dish to drop its TV station signals in 17 markets as of March 4 (the day after the Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to launch retransmission-consent rule reforms in an effort to reduce blackouts and viewer dislocation).

For its part, Dish says that it will be LIN doing the dropping.

In the letter, LIN says the decision to terminate carriage was Dish's, and that after LIN realized their retrans negotiations were unlikely to bear fruit by the 11:59 p.m. deadline Monday night (Feb. 28), LIN says it asked for, and was denied, a one-month extension at the current terms and conditions. Dish agreed to a four-day extension until Friday, but LIN said it doubted the negoations would conclude by then.

Rebecca Duke, LIN vice president of distribution, said that Dish offered a day-to-day extension, but only if LIN did not tell viewers the signal might be exiting Dish.

LIN declined, saying it was "unwilling to put viewers at risk of losing access to LIN's signals with no prior notice."

"LIN Media, a corporate media conglomerate, is threatening to block Dish Network customers from watching its local channels in 17 markets across the country," said Dish in a statement. " LIN Media is demanding more than a 140 percent rate hike and other burdensome contract terms that ultimately will result in higher prices for consumers. We are pleased the FCC is meeting this week to seek changes to the outdated retransmission consent process. In the meantime, Dish Network is diligently negotiating with LIN Media, and we're hopeful we can reach a fair agreement."

Notice is one of the things the FCC is expected to ask for more of in its retrans rule making proposal. LIN said it has started to take the following steps, which it says would have begun earlier had it thought the No. 2 DBS provider would decline its offer of a one-month extension:

*Each station will run crawls and announcements that the station may not be on Dish after March 4;
*We are establishing a call center reachable by special toll-free telephone numbers that consumers can call 24/7 for more information;
*Each station has designated staff to read and respond to emails and telephone calls from viewers;
*We will establish a series of special web pages that provide information about alternative ways Dish subscribers can continue to receive the signals;
*We will launch a print, broadcast and web campaign informing viewers of alternative ways to receive affected signals;
*Before Friday we will provide community leaders in each market with advance notice and we will keep them informed throughout the process; and
*We will notify our other distribution partners and encourage them to make extra efforts to be responsive to inquiries from Dish subscribers in LIN markets."

The potentially impacted stations are in Albuquerque, N.M.; Austin, Texas;  Buffalo, N.Y.; Columbus, Dayton and Toledo, Ohio, Ft. Wayne, Ind.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Green Bay, Wisc.; Indianapolis, Terre Haute and Lafayette, Ind.; Mobile, Ala.;  New Haven, Conn.; Norfolk, Va.;  Providence; and Springfield, Mass.

Should the stations end up going dark, LIN suggests affected viewers get the signals over the air or consider switching subscription TV providers.

B&C's Michael Malone contributed to this report.