Bresnan Comm. in Wyoming Station Showdown

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Several Casper, Wyo.-area TV stations are pushing the local cable operator, Bresnan Communications, to provide compensation for their stations or risk losing the broadcast signals on New Year's Eve.

Casper-based WyoMedia, which owns or operates eight stations in the market, is asking Bresnan to pay 12 cents per subscriber. Alternately, the company would accept guaranteed advertising buys on its stations or assistance funding digital equipment necessary to transmit the stations' signals to cable.

CBS affiliates KGWC and KGWL may pull their feeds on Dec. 31, and six other stations could follow suit, including ABC affiliate KTWO and four Fox affiliates. Six of the stations are owned or operated by WyoMedia Corp.

WyoMedia General Manager Mark Nalbone says on Dec. 20 he offered to keep all the stations on Bresnan systems for free for one year while negotiations continued, but that the cable company declined the offer. "Bresnan has made a unilateral decision that our stations are not worth anything, and they should be removed," he says.

The stations are all carried on EchoStar Communications' Dish Network, which Nalbone says does offer compensation similar to what he is asking of Bresnan.

For its part, the cable company filed a petition with the FCC, asserting that three of the stations are operated jointly in violation of FCC ownership rules. Nalbone says the petition questions license assignments that were filed at least a year and a half ago.

But Bresnan is not backing down. In a note to customers on its Web site, the company says Nalbone is demanding compensation for carrying the stations, a demand that cable operators across the country have resisted: "In essence, he is asking Bresnan's subscribers to pay for the same programming that viewers who can receive it over the air get for free."

If the cable company were to pay subscriber fees, Bresnan also says it would be forced to renegotiate all of its deals with other broadcast stations under "Most Favored Nation" clauses in its deals. That, it says, "would require Bresnan to further increase the cost of service, not only to our Wyoming customers but to all of our cable customers."

Bresnan claims that Nalbone "did not provide proper notification to force us to stop transmitting signals for certain affiliates," and the operator plans to continue to carry the stations through at least February. Bresnan, which runs systems in Casper, Cheyenne, Lander, Riverton and Thermopolis, plans to hand out antennas to its customers if the stations do remove the signal.

But Nalbone says the cost to Bresnan would be minimal. On average, he says, area cable customers pay $50 a month to the cable operator, and $600 a year. The WyoMedia stations, "are asking for $1.44 of $600," Nalbone says. "Fifty percent of viewership on cable systems comes from broadcast stations. They've built their business on the back of broadcast stations."

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