FARMINGTON — Some cable television channels may go black if local provider Bee Line Cable does not reach an agreement with Viacom, owner of MTV Networks, by midnight Monday.

The chances of 12 channels in the Bee Line Cable basic package, including MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central, going off are extremely high, Bee Line General Manager George Allen said Friday.

“The channels probably will go black,” he said, “if they don’t grant an extension to the March 31 deadline and continue negotiations.” 

If the channels go off, Bee Line customers will be credited for the period of time they are off, he said.

It happens all the time, he said, mentioning a satellite provider who had channels down nine days while negotiations continued.

“Viacom wants a rate increase that’s 40 times the rate of inflation,” Allen said. “It’s a substantial increase. It’s like going to the gas pump to find the cost for gas has gone from $3.50 a gallon to $6 overnight.”

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That’s the scale of some of these large increases, he said. Allen was restricted from talking about specific rates.

“When a multibillion dollar company such as Viacom demands an unprecedented increase in its monthly fees, we believe it’s our responsibility to take a stand,” he said.

The cable companies normally see rate increases of 5 or 10 percent every year, an amount that is not sustainable, Allen said.

The cable company pays a contracted amount for each channel and each customer that receives it. They pass increases on to customers, who complain they don’t want them, stating there’s too many channels and prices are too high, he said.

“It’s either a big rate increase for the subscriber or we tell Viacom we’ve had enough,” he said. “I’ve been in the industry since 1976, and with Bee Line since 1991. This is the biggest battle I’ve seen.”

There are 850 cable operators — most independent, like Bee Line — who are fighting to get the lowest price for their five million subscribers, he said.

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The American Cable Association is holding a large convention in Washington next week. Allen is sure legislators will hear about the issue.

Viacom offers MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central, but for cable operators to offer these, they also have to carry networks or fillers that are not as popular, such as Nick JR., MTV2, TeenNick, Nicktoons and CMT Pure Country.

Contracts with the networks force Bee Line to add these networks and pay license fees every month for them, he said. Fees from these networks account for the bulk of customers’ monthly cable bills.

When Allen started working for Bee Line in 1991, there were 18 channels. Now there are more than a couple hundred.

Bee Line Cable, located in Madison, serves Anson, Farmington, Industry, Madison, Millinocket, East Millinocket, Skowhegan and Wilton.

Customers can learn more about rising program costs by going to Bee Line’s website, www.getbeeline.com and clicking on a new website link, www.TVOnMySide.com, he said.

[email protected]


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