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NBC25 and cable providers at odds

November 10, 2005|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN

erinc@herald-mail.com

Two local cable companies might soon drop Washington County's television news station.

NBC25 might not be available to Antietam Cable and Adelphia Communications Inc. customers beginning in 2006 because of a money dispute between NBC25's parent company and the two area cable providers, representatives with Antietam Cable said Wednesday.

The dispute started during a routine contract renewal in late October. NBC25 gives consent once every three years for area cable providers to carry the station, said Duane Lammers, chief operating officer of Nexstar Broadcasting Group Inc., which owns NBC25.

Antietam Cable is owned by Schurz Communications Inc., which also owns The Herald-Mail Co.

Lammers said he is taking NBC25 to a satellite dish network that is willing to compensate the company for its programming.

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During contract negotiations, Nexstar asked Antietam Cable to increase the amount of money it pays Nexstar to include the station in its cable package. Lammers would not say how much money the company currently receives from Antietam Cable.

He did say the company asked Antietam Cable for about 30 cents each month for each of Antietam's 38,700 cable subscribers in Washington County - $11,610 each month and $139,320 annually.

Lammers said cable bills would not have to increase, but Antietam Cable says the additional cost would be passed onto cable subscribers.

He said a satellite dish network is compensating Nexstar at a rate comparable to the amount it wanted from Antietam Cable.

"We have successfully negotiated for carriage of (NBC25) in the past, and we already have offered to substantially enhance the existing terms of our carriage agreement with (NBC25)," Antietam Cable President and General Manager Gene Hager said in a written release. "We are dismayed that (NBC25's) new owner (Lammers) is disinterred in the realities of this marketplace."

Hager said Washington County residents will continue to receive NBC programming from another affiliate in Washington, D.C. That contract is secure through 2008, he said.

Antietam Cable also is looking at ways to provide Hagerstown-area news, weather and sports information, which are not part of the Washington, D.C., news broadcast.

A spokesperson with Adelphia Communications, which also is said to be dropping NBC25 from its programming, did not return phone calls Wednesday.

NBC25 Vice President Hugh Breslin III said his station, which serves parts of Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania, is the most-viewed on Antietam Cable, according to the last research available to him. But Lammers said Antietam Cable officials said they could replace the local news coverage provided by the station.

"I don't know how," Lammers said. "I suspect that the people who live in Hagerstown probably don't feel that way."

Hager would not comment on a way to replace local coverage, referring to the written release he submitted.

Lammers, who was not with Nexstar three years ago for the last consent agreement, said he did not know how long the companies have been doing business. Hager could not provide that information.

Regardless of the companies' history, Lammers said if NBC25 moves to a satellite cable provider, many of Antietam Cable's customers will switch, too.

"We just want to make sure that the customers of Antietam Cable understand that their cable company is placing no value on us and believe they can replace us," he said.

Hager said Lammers threatened Antietam Cable when the company did not negotiate higher payment for including the channel in its cable package. Hager said Lammers said, "(Nexstar) will spend the next two months making (Antietam Cable's) life very painful."

Attempts to contact Lammers about these claims were unsuccessful.

Each company says the other is to blame for the failed negotiations. Lammers said his company has reached deals with other cable providers who are willing to pay for its stations.

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