By Jaci Schneider, Opinion Editor
Students who live on campus will not be able to watch Saturday Night Live on Saturday or West Wing next Wednesday. And they might not ever be able to watch those shows or many others on campus or in Abilene without purchasing antennas.
Cox Communications, the cable provider in Abilene, and KRBC-TV, the NBC affiliate in the area, are at a stalemate in negotiations over whether Cox can transmit KRBC to its subscribers.
“There is a very real possibility that we’ll never be on Cox cable,” said Gayle Kiger, vice president and general manager of Nexstar Broadcasting Group in Abilene, which owns KRBC and KTAB-TV, the CBS affiliate.
Cox could no longer air KRBC beginning Jan. 1 because the cable company would not pay a requested 30 cents per subscriber per month to KRBC. Cable companies pay fees of up to $3 for stations like ESPN and MTV, but few pay for local broadcast stations.
According to federal law, a cable company must have permission from a broadcast network in order to offer it to subscribers. Broadcast networks including NBC, ABC and CBS, air for free over public airwaves. In each market, the network can have a local affiliate. KRBC is NBC’s affiliate station.
The dispute began when KRBC’s contract expired with Cox at the end of 2004. KRBC wants to be paid for its programming.
“We do not pay for programming that is free, over-the-air broadcasting,” said Morris Wilkes, vice president and general manager of the West Texas division of Cox.
“They don’t pay to use the airwaves that the public owns,” he said. “Yet they’re demanding that Cox customers pay for what non-Cox customers pay for free.
KRBC argues in an advertisement in the Abilene Reporter-News that the original purpose of cable was to improve the reception of local signals.
“There is value in the programming we offer on our television station,” Kiger said, “If there was no value, Cox wouldn’t be so intent on getting us on their lineup.”
Kiger also argued that satellite companies pay local networks for their programming, so cable companies should also have to pay.
Although the companies tried to reach an agreement before Jan. 1, they have come to a standoff in negotiations.
“We have tried and tried to resolve the issue, but Nexstar has refused to meet,” Wilkes said. “The broadcaster is required by federal law to negotiate in good faith, but Nexstar has refused to meet unless all demands are met.”
However, Kiger said Nexstar and KRBC would meet with Cox if the company would agree to some form of compensation.
Both companies claim that their audience has not declined since Cox stopped airing KRBC.
“I truly feel that our signal we provide to the viewers brings more value to local viewers than say the Food Network does, or the Speed Network does,” Kiger said. “The most watched programs are the broadcast networks.”
He did say that some advertisers have pulled or changed their spots, but some companies, particularly satellite dish companies have added advertising.
Wilkes said that Cox has not been affected beyond normal business ups and downs.