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KMVU, Spectrum TV reach deal

A week ahead of the World Cup, Medford area cable subscribers are finally able to tune into their local Fox affiliate.

After a prolonged blackout rooted in a contract dispute between two parent companies, Spectrum TV Channel 13, belonging to Fox 26 KMVU, was back to airing syndicated episodes of “The People’s Court” and “Judge Mathis” Thursday afternoon.

Following four months of brinkmanship that had KMVU parent company Northwest Broadcasting encouraging Spectrum TV subscribers to contact the FCC, and Spectrum TV parent company Charter Communications filing a lawsuit against a California city that tried to intervene, the cable company issued a brief statement Thursday announcing the two companies had come to terms.

“We’re pleased to have reached a fair agreement with Northwest Broadcasting. We’re working to restore signals, and expect to have programming back on for customers by tomorrow,” a statement issued by Charter Communications spokesman Bret Picciolo said.

Northwest Broadcasting Chief Operating Officer Jon Rand said service already had been restored on Medford’s Fox affiliate and two sister channels operated by Northwest Broadcasting. Spectrum channels 3 and 9, belonging to MyNetworkTV affiliate KFBI and Telemundo affiliate KMCW, were also airing.

Picciolo and Rand refused to disclose details of the negotiations at the heart of the prolonged battle, saying terms were confidential.

Rand, however, said he was pleased the stations were able to ink deals with “pretty major” sporting events “right around the corner” — namely the World Cup soccer tournament and the U.S. Open golf tournament, both set to air on Fox next week.

“It was never our intention to have our stations go off,” Rand said.

Earlier news reports showed each side pitted against the other. Charter told subscribers that Northwest sought “outrageous” increases in programming fees, while Northwest CEO Brian Brady said in an early February news report that the blackout was “all premeditated,” saying Charter had secured the web domain Jan. 18, two weeks before the negotiations fell through.

The Spectrum page has been updated with the following statement:

“Great News! We have negotiated an agreement to restore Northwest Broadcasting, the owner of some local networks. Our negotiations are about one thing; reaching agreements that are fair to our customers. We are happy to be able to return these channels. Thank you for your patience.”

Northwest Broadcasting estimated that the outages across its 12 stations in six markets affected 450,000 subscribers.

The first week of April, Northwest Broadcasting encouraged viewers to file complaints with the Federal Communications Commission, linking to the FCC page from local affiliates’ home pages, including, because Spectrum failed to give subscribers 30-days’ notice of the blackout.

Charter, meanwhile, has a pending suit against the city of El Centro, California, filed in U.S. District Court, claiming the city violated terms of a California law when the city sought to force the cable provider to carry Northwest-owned NBC and CBS affiliates under a 1998 franchise agreement. Charter argues that the California Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006 moved regulation to the state level.

U.S. District Court records show the suit is still pending, with lawyers for Charter filing a response Thursday disputing the city’s motion to dismiss the suit, claiming that “the city’s improper actions have harmed its reputation, goodwill and relationships with current and prospective customers, costing it the value of those customers’ business,” Charter’s filing stated.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

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