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Contract fight may mean no local NBC, CW on Dish

Satellite company, broadcaster at odds over new agreement; channels could go dark Saturday

Dale Roe

If you are a Dish Network subscriber, there's a possibility you'll have a couple of fewer stations when you turn on your television Saturday.

The satellite television provider is negotiating a new carriage contract with LIN Media, which owns 27 stations in 17 markets nationwide, including NBC affiliate KXAN and The CW outlet KNVA in Austin. The current contract expires early Saturday morning, and if a new agreement is not reached, Dish will not be able to legally provide those channels.

"These stations are important assets to the local community," Eric Lassberg, president and general manager of KXAN and KNVA, said in a statement. "Without a fair agreement, we will not be able to provide the premiere news, sports, entertainment, weather, traffic updates, political coverage and other local and national programming that is most important to you."

Dish said that LIN is seeking a rate hike of more than 140 percent and claims that such an increase would result in higher prices for consumers.

The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously Thursday to launch a review of the federal rules that govern negotiations over the fees that cable, satellite and other subscription video services pay broadcasters to carry their signals in channel lineups.

The commission's actions follow a series of high-profile standoffs that left some consumers without their local stations when negotiations reached an impasse and broadcasters pulled their signals from pay TV services. The FCC wants to minimize future TV signal blackouts.

Programming outages are usually averted in carriage disputes, but the timing of this battle makes it possible that negotiations will stall until both providers and stations learn more about the FCC's plans.

Advertising industry analyst Adweek has reported that a blackout would affect about 1.1 million households nationwide, or about 8 percent of Dish Network subscribers. Dish spokesman Mark Lumpkin declined to provide the number of local subscribers who would be affected.

"We don't break that down by region," Lumpkin said. In the meantime, LIN recommends alternative ways to obtaining its channels: using a digital antenna or subscribing to a different satellite or cable television provider.

Of course, there's always the chance that a last-minute agreement will be reached today. Watch for updates at www.austin360.com/tvblog.

droe@statesman.com; 912-5923

Contains material from The Associated Press.