Spokane Fox affiliate demands local cable systems pay to carry their signal

Paying for public airwaves unacceptable

[Daily Evergreen editorial]

Local affiliate does not have the right to ask for compensation from cable companies.

The Daily Evergreen

FOX KAYU 28 chose the wrong season to pull its station from Pullman cable television. The channel’s disappearance made angry cable subscribers across the Palouse turn to desperate measures, huddling next to strangers in the lobby of the rec center and knocking on their sisters-boyfriend’s-cousin’s apartment just to watch the Seattle Seahawks take on the Chicago Bears in the NFC playoff game Sunday. After the game, Seahawks fans walked away from the 27-24 loss not only wondering why quarterback Matt Hasselbeck couldn’t throw one more touchdown, but also why a broadcast network would demand compensation for a service that costs it nothing to distribute across airwaves. KAYU, which broadcasts its signal through space allotted by the Federal Communications Commission, is an advertising-supported network television affiliate. The station stopped service to Pullman after cable provider Time Warner refused in December to compensate the channel for broadcasting its signal.

KAYU should not ask for such compensation. As citizens, we should be able to access the content on these public airwaves for free. Time Warner’s acceptance of KAYU’s demand for compensation would open the door for other broadcast stations to ask for the same.

The way KAYU has tried to keep its channel available to Pullman cable viewers violates the concept of public airwaves. Now, cable subscribers and fans of shows such as “The OC,” “The Simpsons” and “American Idol” are inconvenienced because of the Spokane affiliate’s greed. Pullman’s rural location means the closest broadcast antenna is 70 miles away in Spokane. In most areas of Washington, TV antennas pick up the signal of public broadcast stations, including ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX. Cable networks are not given free airspace but pay cable companies to broadcast their signal. Paying for what would be free via antenna anywhere else should not be a consequence of living in Pullman. Football fans were right to cry foul for the inconvenience.

If KAYU continues to refuse free access, it should take the responsibility to install a translator tower that would allow transmission of the station to areas such as Pullman. It is only greed from KAYU that stops it from offering its channel for free.


Where's FOX 28? You Make the Call!

by Jon Rand, General Manager, KAYU FOX 28

Time Warner Cable customers who have been missing Fox 28 programming have been asking a lot of questions of the TV station. And, we think they have the right to know.

We had hoped to be able to address many of those concerns in a public forum. Weeks ago, we asked the local mayors to stage this forum. The cities have a vested interest in seeing this conflict resolved because Time Warner pays the city a franchise fee based on a percentage of their gross revenues.

Not only would no mayor take us up on our offer, but the opportunity to participate in the event, something that could be arranged, was declined by Time Warner. They were unwilling to answer their customers face-to-face. Our public forum offer remains on the table.

KAYU delivers its television signal to an area that encompasses 24 counties spanning four states. There are some 90 different cable head-ends the station feeds, only three of which are Time Warner owned. There are satisfactory financial arrangements in place with a very large percentage of those 90 systems.

Amongst those 90 cable headends, agreements and negotiations are in varying stages. Seldom are all the contracts on exactly the same time table for renewal.

Please be reminded that Time Warner Cable wants to take something for which they don't pay one penny and charge their customers to have access to. To borrow CDA Press Columnist Marty Fortier's description, "isn't that sort of like picking your neighbor's roses, then turning around and selling bouquets?"

There is a monumental shift going on as the tables are turned on cable operators who have built their business on the backs of broadcasters since the inception of cable TV. The game changer has been the flight of subscription TV customers from hard wired cable to satellite delivered program services such as DirecTV and the Dish Network.

Some people have pressed us for greater disclosure. How about the cable company? The cable company pays a fee to little-viewed channel providers like Lifetime, A&E, Oxygen, Hallmark, etc. Time Warner must realize that our station has far greater interest to the general public than all those channels combined.

Where this is leading is a challenge to Time Warner to offer their customers the ability to pay for the channels they want. And, I mean only the channels they want. It's a concept called "ala carte"; it's an idea that has enough merit that it has been discussed in Congress.

In an "ala carte" cable world, if you want CNN, the Disney Channel, HGTV, Fox 28, Q-6, KSPS, KXLY and KREM, you tell the cable company that's what you want. You only pay for the channels you choose to watch.

Fox 28 will take its chances that enough customers who have remained with Time Warner through this standoff will opt to pay a minimal fee for a Fox affiliate and the news and sports programming we offer viewers.

For the record, you will undoubtedly find that the cable company has no desire to do this because they know the average viewer watches only eight to twelve channels. Yet you may be forced to buy up to 150 channels in order to get the dozen or so you want.

KAYU would not have chosen to have its signal removed from Time Warner should customers have had no other options. Aside from our over-the-air signal, customers do have an alternative in the form of both satellite-delivered services.

The question is how many thousands of customers will Time Warner give up to protect stubborn pride and archaic cable industry ideals?

The ball is in their court. Time Warner has paid for full page newspaper ads to convince their customers that they "will continue to actively negotiate with Northwest Broadcasting..." Since KAYU came off their systems on December 14, 2006, Time Warner has not made a single offer. Our last offer remains on the table. There have been no negotiations. Not one exchange. Not one phone call, letter, e-mail or fax from Time Warner. Nothing.

At KAYU Fox 28, we proudly remain first and foremost over-the-air broadcasters, committed to accommodating our very large community with great programming, sports, and local news...a significant contribution to the public we serve.

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The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey