Comporium drops 2 S.C. TV stations from lineup

Comporium Communications announced Tuesday it will drop two stations from its cable lineup tonight.

After 11:30 p.m., Comporium customers in York County no longer will be able to view WSPA-TV (a CBS affilate out of Spartanburg) on cable Channel 7. Lancaster County customers no longer will receive WIS-TV (NBC, Columbia) on cable Channel 7.

York County customers also will lose the WIS-TV news broadcast which has been shown on cable Channel 2 at 5, 7 and 11 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Comporium said it no longer will carry the stations because it was unable to negotiate a reasonable, out-of-market broadcast station fee with WIS and WSPA.

"We did not feel what they were asking us to pay was reasonable and it was a take-it-or-leave-it deal," said Glenn McFadden, Comporium's executive vice president and chief operating officer.

A Federal Communications Commission regulation requires cable companies to obtain a broadcast TV stations' permission to carry its signals on the cable system after today. Across the nation, cable TV companies and broadcast station owners have negotiated fees to grant cable companies permission to carry broadcast channels on cable lineups.

In the past, broadcast channels were carried by cable companies at no charge. Comporium picked up the signal from broadcast channels by antennas and rebroadcast it, McFadden said. Under the new FCC regulations, broadcast stations have been granted the right to charge for the signal.

Comporium successfully negotiated rates to carry the seven Charlotte broadcast stations, WSOC (ABC), WCNC (NBC), WBTV (CBS), WCCB (Fox), WMYT, WJZY and WAXN, McFadden said.

Because Comporium will continue to offer the Charlotte broadcast stations, McFadden said the company will add an additional fee to customer's cable bills. The charge will take effect in March and will be less than $2 per month, he said.

But to keep broadcasting WIS and WSPA, McFadden said the rate increase would have doubled.

Representatives from WIS and WSPA say they are just asking for fair compensation to broadcast their stations.

"They have paid ESPN and other networks to use their stations," said Donita Todd, vice president and general manager of WIS.

Todd said the station's fee negotiations were handled by an outside company and they have reached agreements with all but a few cable systems. Todd said she was not aware that the station had not successfully negotiated with Comporium.

Phil Lane, WSPA vice president and general manager, said the station had successfully negotiated with all cable systems in its designated market, but a few systems outside the area, such as Comporium, elected not to continue carrying the station.

"That's a decision cable has to make," he said.

McFadden said Comporium lobbied hard for reasonable rates from WIS and WSPA, but said the fees the stations were requesting were too high. Because CBS and NBC already are offered by the Charlotte affiliates, Comporium officials did not think carrying double affiliates would be worth the rate increase, McFadden said.

"The economy is shaky, and we didn't want to hit people with an increase," he said.

McFadden said the company regretted not being able to continue to broadcast WIS and WSPA because many people tune into the channels for high school and college sporting events and for news.

But Todd and Lane say the channels still can be accessed through satellite dishes or over the air by antennae.

"If they want to watch our channel, we encourage viewers to call us and we can give them some advice on how to see the channel," Todd said.

When the broadcasts of WIS and WSPA conclude at 11:30 tonight, cable Channel 7 in York and Lancaster counties will show a blue screen with a scroll explaining the changes. Cable Channel 7 will begin broadcasting WNSC-ETV on Friday.