GCI, KTUU extend timeline for negotiations through Nov. 8


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Television customers in several rural Alaska communications are in the middle of a dispute between General Communication Inc. and broadcaster KTUU, but transmission will continue at least through Nov. 8.

For now, programming in Barrow, Bethel, Cordova, Kodiak, Kotzebue, Kuparuk, Nome, North Slope and Valdez will continue.

Cable provider GCI carries KTUU’s programming throughout the state, but the agreement under which it does so expired in September, and the two companies have had difficulty coming to an agreement on the terms of a new agreement.

KTUU is an NBC-affiliate based in Anchorage and owned by Schurz Communications. The station provides local news broadcasts as well as NBC programming on Channel 2.

Under the terms of the old agreement, GCI provided KTUU with certain services, including satellite and fiber optic connections, in exchange for the right to transmit KTUU’s programs.

In a statement, GCI said that the telecommunications company and the broadcaster have exchanged services since 2002.

According to KTUU Marketing Director Brad Hillwig, the television station has asked for payment for its programs as part of a retransmission contract that would go into effect in January 2015. Until then, Hillwig said KTUU has not asked for a change and will provide the programming for free.

GCI’s David Morris said the request for payment was a significant change from past agreements.

“The two parties were oceans apart right from the beginning,” he said.

Morris said it’s also not really free under the current arrangement, given that GCI provides certain services in exchange for the right to carry the station.

Hillwig explained that distributors and content creators operate under retransmission agreements, which come up for review cyclically.

“That’s really just part of the normal process,” Hillwig said.

Hillwig said that KTUU’s request to change the agreement and receive payment for carrying the station was part of that regular review process, but did not provide a specific reason for the broadcaster’s effort to increase the price.

“These types of business discussions normally happen behind closed doors,” Hillwig said.

Morris said that because the retransmission agreement expired in September, and the two parties are now operating under a must-carry agreement, certain rights have expired and the negotiations must be resolved in order for GCI to keep transmitting the programs.

Originally, the extension under which the negotiations were occurring was set to end Oct. 15, Morris said, and if an agreement was not reached, programming would have been discontinued Oct. 16. Now, the two companies have until Nov. 8 to come to an agreement.

Morris said the extension indicated that they were closer to an agreement than previously, but significant work remained.

“There’s still a gap that needs to be negotiated out,” he said, noting that it was a “good sign” that the timeline had been extended.

If GCI were to stop carrying the KTUU programming, it will also stop transmitting the other NBC programs, including entertainment and sports.

In a statement about the dispute, GCI said it would substitute other programming in the Channel 2 slot.

Hillwig said that KTUU’s efforts to cover issues of statewide interest would not change if the station’s reach is reduced.

Throughout its history, the station has tried to cover issues in both urban and rural Alaska, Hillwig said.

“Our stated mission is to tell Alaska’s story,” Hillwig said.

The dispute comes at the same time GCI has asked the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, to allow it to purchase KTUU competitor KTVA, also based in Anchorage, as well as some Southeast Alaska broadcast licenses.

Hillwig said that any relationship between that effort and this disagreement was pure speculation, and Morris confirmed that this negotiation was scheduled before GCI began its efforts to purchase the competitor.

KTUU and other Alaska broadcasters have, however, filed a petition asking the FCC to deny the request, or add certain conditions.

A situation like this, where the primary carrier is able to limit an audience’s access to an independent news source, is exactly what broadcasters feared would happen, Hillwig said.

 

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@alaskajournal.com.

 

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