MADISON — Cable customers in Franklin and Somerset counties could lose access to certain television channels if the local provider, Bee Line Cable, cannot reach an agreement with programming company Viacom.
Viacom, which owns networks such as MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central, is proposing rate increases of about 100 percent, according to Bee Line officials, who say they would have no choice but to pass that cost on to customers or drop the channels.
The deadline for negotiations was originally set for 11:59 p.m. Monday.
“Right now it doesn’t look good for keeping the networks on,” Bee Line General Manager George Allen said Monday afternoon. “The rate increases they’re stuck on are extremely high and we’d have no choice but to pass that cost on to customers. That’s something we don’t want to do.”
Bee Line, which is based in Madison, is one of about 800 independent cable companies across the country in negotiations with Viacom over rate increases, a process that’s being spearheaded by the National Cable Television Cooperative, a nonprofit organization that specializes in collective bargaining on behalf of small cable companies.
Bee Line has about 7,000 subscribers and serves customers in Anson, Farmington, Industry, Madison, Millinocket, East Millinocket, Skowhegan and Wilton. On some channels, a message ran across the bottom of the screen Monday urging customers to call their providers and ask them not to black out the channels, according to Allen.
“That’s kind of a false message because if we don’t reach a contract agreement, they will tell us to take the channels off the air,” Allen said. “It’s their property, so legally we don’t have a choice. Without a contract we can’t show the channels.”
Allen said there’s a good chance that starting Tuesday morning 12 channels in the Bee Line package could be blacked out. Allen also said customers would be reimbursed for the period of time the channels are out.
Viacom issued a brief statement on the negotiations, saying the company “is committed to serving its audience and has been negotiating tirelessly for months to reach an agreement that will ensure no service interruption of its networks.”
“We are simply asking your cable provider for fair value for our networks, which continue to deliver more viewers than any other cable programmer, but cost far less to cable companies,” the statement read.
Allen on Monday would not discuss details of the rate increases. In a press release, Bee Line compared the increase to “40 times the rate of inflation,” saying that the increase would be like upping the price of gasoline from $3.50 to $6 per gallon. Viacom also would not comment on the specifics of the rate increases.
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368 firstname.lastname@example.org