Sunday, September 21, 2014

Cable provider hoping for deal in TV programming dispute

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 3/31/2014

Comedy Central could be going silent. No joke.

Ottawa residents tuning in to MTV and Nickelodeon also could feel a disconnect with some of their favorite programming.

Vyve Broadband, Ottawa’s cable TV provider, and hundreds of other independent cable operators across the country had until midnight Monday to work out a deal with entertainment giant Viacom to keep its channels on the air.

“If an agreement isn’t reached by midnight, all the Viacom channels would be turned off,” Shawn Beqaj, Vyve’s vice president of government and regulatory affairs, said Monday afternoon. “We are still at the negotiating table.”

Customers can go to www.TVOnMySide.com to get the latest updates on the negotiations with Viacom, according to a Vyve news release.

Vyve, a broadband company founded in 2012 by the senior management team from the pioneering cable operator, Bresnan Communications, offers an extensive range of broadband, fiber connectivity, cable television and telephone services for commercial and residential customers, according to a company news release. Vyve, based in Rye Brook, N.Y., became Ottawa’s cable provider when it struck a franchise agreement with the City of Ottawa in February 2013 after acquiring Allegiance Communications, the city’s former provider.

Since then, Vyve, which operates systems throughout the Midwest and Rocky Mountain states, has upgraded Ottawa’s system from about 6 megabits-per-second to 50 megabits-per-second and is on track to increase the speed to 105 megabits-per-second before summer’s end, Beqaj said.

Residential services include high-speed Internet, all-digital, high-definition video and fully featured digital voice, according to a Vyve news release. 

Vyve’s goal when it acquired Shawnee, Okla.-based Allegiance also was to increase the number of HD cable TV channels available to Ottawa customers, company officials said.

If a deal cannot be struck with Viacom, Vyve customers could see a temporary setback in the number of available channels.

Despite good faith efforts to negotiate a contract renewal at a fair price for these networks, Viacom continues to demand a huge rate increase, Beqaj and other Vyve officials said. The potential loss of channels is not an isolated incident and is part of a larger, industry-wide problem that has seen channels go dark across the country over the past several years, Vyve officials said.

“Vyve’s goal is to protect our customers from significant programming fee increases,” Roberta Erickson, system manager for Vyve Broadband in Kansas, said. “Because we pay programmers a monthly fee per channel for every customer for their programming, we believe it’s our responsibility to take a stand when a multi-billion dollar company such as Viacom demands exorbitant increases.”

The current proposal from Viacom would have costly repercussions for Vyve’s customers, company officials said. 

“While we are restricted from talking about specific rates, Viacom demanded an increase that is 40 times the rate of inflation,” Beqaj said.

From another perspective, this would be similar to pulling up to the gas pump and discovering fuel prices had gone from $3.50 a gallon to $6 a gallon overnight, Vyve officials said in the release.

Vyve Broadband has invested heavily in its rural networks so the company can bring next-generation Internet, video and phone services to its largely rural footprint, company officials said in the news release. Part of that upgrade is the creation of a 100-percent digital, HD video product to complement its cutting-edge Internet service, Beqaj said.

As Vyve delivers new services, Beqaj said, programming costs remain a continual concern.

“We are very pleased we bought the Ottawa system, and we’re very proud of the system we are building,” Beqaj said.

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