Local Dish Network customers have lost NBC programming due to a continued contract dispute between the satellite TV provider and Sarkes Tarzian, the parent company of local NBC affiliate WRCB.
Leaders on both sides of the negotiation maintain that the other side is being unreasonable.
Aaron M. Johnson, corporate communications manager with Dish Network, said in an email that Sarkes is demanding a 288 percent price increase.
“Because Sarkes let its contract expire we no longer have the legal right to carry this local channel,” he said. “Dish offered to pay an increase in fees, but Sarkes refused. Dish even offered to pay the same rates as our competitors, but Sarkes refused.”
WRCB offered an unconditional extension, allowing Dish Network to continue distributing its content, Tom Tolar, president and general manager of WRCB, said.
Tolar said that Dish Network would only accept that offer if WRCB leaders promised not to tell anyone-not to warn customers that there was still a chance of a channel blackout.
Some local residents have accused WRCB of being greedy or of having a ulterior motives, but Tolar said he wants viewers to know that isn’t true.
“We are a small broadcaster,” he said. “Dish has more than 10 million subscribers nationwide. For those people who think we are, in some way, trying to bully (Dish Network), that’s just impossible. We are just trying to get a fair deal.”
An earlier statement from WRCB said that Dish Network refused to pay pennies a day for local and NBC programming.
But Dish Network officials maintain that isn’t the case.
“The truth is their demands would force us to pay millions of dollars more than we currently pay over the life of the contract,” Johnson said.
But Tolar said that using percentages is misleading. He used the example that if an employee is paid one quarter of a penny and asks for a one cent raise-that is a 300 percent increase, but it is still only a penny.
Mike Heimowitz, with the American Television Alliance, which represents cable companies such as Dish Network, said that Congress and the Federal Communications Commission need to adjust regulations to avoid this kind of problem, which has happened in other places around the country for years.
According to the alliance, retransmission consent fees are payments TV providers make to broadcasters to carry their signals.
The current rules, which the alliance said are out-of-date rules, were drafted in 1992 and have recently led to record numbers of TV blackouts for consumers, according to the alliance.
Heimowitz said that the broadcasters have an edge because they have a monopoly and are the only ones allowed by law to broadcast the NBC station.
The current laws prevent cable providers from bringing in an NBC station from another market, Heimowitz said.
“It’s a shame that the people in Chattanooga have to suffer, but it’s a national problem and we need a solution,” he said.
Tolar said that he has been able to negotiate thousands of successful agreements.
Of the roughly 7,000 instances he has been involved in, only four have resulted in a signal being taken down-and two of those were Dish Network disputes, he said.
Tolar said he just wants a fair deal.
“If we don’t get a fair deal now, we are going to have to live with an unfair deal,” he said.