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Cox wins ruling, plans to drop WPGA from lineup

Cox Communications officials said Tuesday they are set to move forward with plans to move ABC on its lineup chart from channel 15 to channel 6 after winning a legal victory over Macon television station WPGA, the former ABC affiliate.

A Bibb County Superior Court judge ruled that Cox may drop WPGA -- which now runs syndicated programming -- from its lineup because the contract between them was a “retransmission consent” agreement, which gives the cable company the choice of which stations it wants to carry.

WPGA had tried unsuccessfully to argue that it is a “must carry” station and that Cox has no right to drop it from the lineup. WPGA has lost twice in Superior Court and once with the Georgia Court of Appeals.

In addition, the Federal Communications Commission ruled in December that it wouldn’t interject itself in the dispute, meaning Cox’s retransmission agreement with WPGA would stand.

Cox has attempted to drop WPGA before but put off its plans until all the legal disputes were settled.

Cox spokeswoman Mary Bowman said the current plan is to drop WPGA from its regular and HD lineups Aug. 26. Cox then plans to air ABC programming -- currently carried in this area by WGXA -- on channels 6 and 15 as well as channels 1006 and 1015 on the HD lineup in order to get viewers used to the switch. The length of time for the dual broadcasts has not been decided.

After that, Bowman said, Cox will drop programming from channels 15 and 1015 entirely, and repurpose that bandwidth to carry different cable channels.

“We’ll reclaim the channel 15 (and 1015) bandwidth,” she said. “Currently, we’re evaluating our options for the high-demand channels.”

Bowman said channels 2-13 are considered “prime real estate” in terms of broadcasting. Switching ABC to channel 6 would allow it to be bundled with the other major networks in Cox’s lineup.

Lowell Register, owner of Register Communications -- the parent company of WPGA -- said he is still looking into other legal avenues to try to prevent being dropped, but he declined to get into specifics. He acknowledged that he received a letter Friday from Cox informing him of the decision to drop WPGA from its lineup after 30 days.

“I’m leaving it up to the legal minds,” Register said, adding that he wouldn’t comment on whether he plans to file another lawsuit. “I’m going to do what I have to do to stay on Cox’s lineup.”

The dispute between WPGA and Cox goes back to Jan. 1, 2010, when WPGA stopped carrying ABC’s programming because it didn’t want to pay $500,000 to the network. WGXA, which also carries Fox programming in Middle Georgia, stepped in to broadcast ABC programming as well.

WPGA now carries syndicated programming, ranging from classic shows such as “M*A*S*H” and “Mission Impossible” to reruns of current TV shows like “30 Rock” and “The Office.”

A Bibb County Superior Court judge dismissed WPGA’s original lawsuit in 2010, and the state’s Court of Appeals upheld that decision in June 2011.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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