The Federal Communications Commission has ruled that WPGA is a “must-carry” station.
What that means in the station’s long-running feud with local cable operator Cox Communications is a matter of debate between Cox and WPGA.
WPGA owner Lowell Register said Monday the ruling means that, as a must-carry station, WPGA should be carried on Cox’s basic lineup.
“(Cox) can carry us on a channel as long as it is in their basic service,” Register said.
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However, Cox Communications Vice President Lynn Murphey said the FCC’s five-page ruling doesn’t guarantee WPGA a spot in the basic lineup at all.
The only thing guaranteed in the ruling is that WPGA could be carried on Channel 58, its over-the-air channel number. However, the ruling also said that any side agreements take precedence over the FCC ruling.
Viewers, however, won’t see any change for the foreseeable future. WPGA is still broadcasting on Channel 6 and 706 because of a temporary restraining order that has kept the station in the same place on the dial since the beginning of the year.
Murphey said Cox maintains that WPGA entered into a retransmission consent agreement two years ago with the cable carrier.
Under FCC rules, stations have either a must-carry or retransmission consent status. Must-carry stations must be broadcast by local cable affiliates such as Cox Communications among their basic tier channels. Retransmission consent stations receive compensation from the cable broadcaster to air their programming, but in those cases the cable operator has the right to determine where in the lineup the station can be found.
Cox has argued in court that it has given WPGA more than $100,000 in license fees, making the station a retransmission station. It wouldn’t have given WPGA any compensation if it was a must-carry station, Cox argued in its defense in a lawsuit that WPGA filed against the cable provider this year.
WPGA sued Cox in an attempt to keep its spot on Channel 6 in Cox’s regular lineup and Channel 706 in the digital lineup. Superior Court Judge Lamar Sizemore ruled against WPGA in May, granting Cox’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. WPGA has since appealed the verdict.
“We still have a suit against Cox, and we’re still in the appeals process,” Register said Monday.
The dispute between WPGA and Cox started in 2009, after WPGA announced it would no longer be an ABC affiliate after not wanting to pay about $500,000 to the network. Instead, the station began airing older syndicated programming Jan. 1, while WGXA picked up ABC’s signal in the Middle Georgia market.
The FCC ruling released Friday reads that “WPGA was not carried by Cox prior to 1995, and as a result its only carriage options under the Commission’s channel positioning rules are Channel 58 or ‘such other channel as is mutually agreed upon by the station and the cable operator.’ ”
However, Murphey pointed out that the FCC ruling also states that its rules don’t prohibit stations “from making side agreements with cable operators that can effect the terms of their carriage.” Thus, because of the pre-existing retransmission agreement, it’s up to Cox to decide whether it wants to carry WPGA at all, Murphey said.