Lack of contract could keep WNEP off cable system
NORTHUMBERLAND - The war of words continued to heat up between Service Electric Cablevision Inc. (SECV) and WNEP-TV Thursday as the deadline approaches for a contract to keep the station on the cable system.
If an agreement is not reached by midnight Tuesday, by law, SECV cannot carry WNEP's programming on its system. This means the screen could go dark just after the ball drops in Times Square on ABC.
SECV general manager Dwight Walter is optimistic, however, that a deal can be reached.
"We continue to negotiate with them for a retransmission agreement. I have faith that it will get done," Walter said Thursday.
WNEP began airing commercials Wednesday informing viewers that the station may be dropped Tuesday from systems headquartered in Sunbury, Mahanoy City and Hazleton, along with those on CATV in Danville. The station viewers to contact SECV to keep WNEP programming.
"You need to settle this contract with WNEP, or we will be looking at other carriers, too," Gary Honabach, of Catawissa, wrote on Service Electric's Facebook page.
"WNEP has great news programs and does a lot of community service projects, Keep it on through your negotiations and settle this situation ASAP. Money isn't everything," wrote Terri Hornberger, of Mount Carmel.
In a statement released Wednesday, Service Electric said it has no intention of dropping the channel or its sister station, WNEP 2, which features local programming and a classic television show lineup.
"We are working hard to reach an agreement with WNEP to ensure we can continue carriage of this channel at an affordable cost to our customers," the statement reads.
SECV asked customers to contact WNEP for an extension of the agreement to keep the programming on past Jan. 1 while negotiations continue.
On Thursday, public statements between the two parties heated up, starting with WNEP's discussion of the rates they charge to SECV, which are passed on to customers.
"The truth is, less than four cents a day of your cable bill goes to pay for WNEP," an article on the WNEP website reads. "Tell Service Electric Cablevision and CATV to stop overpaying for the channels you don't watch like Women's Entertainment, Ovation and the Independent Film Channel, which costs about the same as WNEP."
The sticking point between the two sides seems to be the fair market rate that Service Electric currently pays to carry WNEP programming, which, in turn, is passed on to the subscriber.
The station said it has reached agreements with every other cable and satellite provider in its market, and Service Electric pays them WNEP less than what it pays most cable networks.
Thursday afternoon, SECV posted on Facebook that WNEP has refused to return phone calls or emails since Wednesday afternoon. The post also discusses rate increases.
"WNEP is asking for an unprecedented 300 percent rate increase for the channel," the post read. "These types of negotiations are typically done in private and result in both parties reaching an agreement."
The post said SECV will seek protection and relief from the Federal Communication Commission if WNEP continues to not negotiate.
"We were a little blindsided by all this," Walter said. "They are getting our customers involved and it may not be necessary, because we have no intention of dropping the channels and want to get a deal done."
"However, we have a duty to be prudent for our customers," he continued. "We have to work out terms that will be in the best interest of everyone."
The general manager said negotiations are being handled by representatives higher up in the corporation, not by him personally.
While WNEP programming may be lost if an agreement cannot be reached, network shows from ABC, such as "Good Morning America," "ABC World News Tonight," "Modern Family" and "Dancing with the Stars," will still be shown on SECV.
"We have another ABC affiliate, that being WPVI-TV out of Philadelphia, on our system." Walter said.
The Philadelphia station, however, is not currently a provider of programming in high definition on SECV, while WNEP is.
While the two sides continue to negotiate, viewers are using social media to vent their frustrations.
Brian Broadt, of Bloomsburg, wrote on Facebook, "Quit fooling around, it's bad enough that our government cannot agree. Get this thing done. There are more important things to worry about."