Comcast viewers win late reprieve

Deal with Sinclair lifts threat to local access

February 02, 2007|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,Sun reporter

Comcast Corp. said yesterday that its rights to retransmit signals of Baltimore's Fox and CW networks have been extended for another month while the cable provider continues negotiating with Sinclair Broadcasting Group Inc. on a new deal.

Comcast and station owner Sinclair, based in Hunt Valley, agreed to extend their current contract through March 1. It was set to expire Monday.

The contract affects regular and high definition channels of 30 stations - including Baltimore's WBFF FOX 45 and WNUV CW 54 - and 3 million customers nationwide in 23 markets such as Richmond Va., Pittsburgh and Tampa, Fla.

Cable customers in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties could have lost access to the Fox and CW networks. "Our customers will continue to receive all of the Sinclair channels while we continue to work with them to reach a fair agreement," Comcast said yesterday.

Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, began notifying high definition customers of the potential interruption last month.

This week, the cable operator also placed ads in newspapers and mailed notices to their subscribers, proclaiming "You won't be `out-foxed' by Sinclair Broadcasting!"

Comcast serves more than 1 million customers in Maryland, Southern Delaware and Richmond, Va.

Sinclair, one of the nation's largest independent owners of broadcast stations, has been at the forefront of demanding so-called retransmission fees from cable operators to carry local station's broadcast signals.

But cable operators, such as Comcast, maintain their customers should not have to pay for network affiliates that are available free over the airwaves.

Sinclair struck a deal last month with Time Warner Cable, allowing the nation's second-largest cable operator to carry analog and digital signals of Sinclair's 35 stations in 22 markets including Buffalo, N.Y., and part of Ohio. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Sinclair is locked in a bitter, nearly four-week-old stalemate with Mediacom Communications Corp., a cable operator with headquarters in Middletown, N.Y. Sinclair blocked its 22 stations from Mediacom's cable systems in 13 states, including Iowa, Wisconsin and Florida, resulting in 2 million viewers in the Midwest and South losing access to network affiliates, such as Fox, NBC and CBS.

Barry M. Faber, Sinclair's vice president and general counsel, did not return a phone call yesterday.

hanah.cho@baltsun.com

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