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      Cable companies and broadcasters debate free TV future

      There's a debate in Washington that could affect the way you watch our television station, and all others across the country. It's a dispute over broadcast rights and whether TV should be free or whether you should have to pay for your favorite programs.

      When a major crisis happens, whether it's a tornado, a hurricane, or breaking news, people turn to local television. For more than 70 years, American's have relied on free, over the air broadcasts to keep them informed and entertained. Now there is a fight brewing in Washington that could change the face of television. It's a battle between cable companies and broadcasters, and as most business fights to, this one is over money.

      According to Brian Frederick, with the American Television Alliance, "The pay TV model is to drive local television stations out of business so they can jack up rates higher than they already are." The dispute is over something called retransmission consent which means cable providers must pay over the air broadcasters for the right to deliver their programming to pay TV customers. But an Alliance of cable companies says broadcasters are asking for higher retransmissions rates which leads to high bills for the viewer. Dennis Wharton with the National Association of Broadcasters explains, "over the next five years broadcasters are going to ask for $25 billion dollars from pay TV consumer for what they call free televisions.

      But cable companies and satellite providers already pay for every network they carry, like ESPN, AMC, and Discovery Channel. All of those networks charge the cable companies to be carried at much higher rates than local broadcasters. Wharton says, "Ultimately what happens with broadcast revenues is that they're reinvested into the local community. The money that local broadcasters get from retransmission is really invested in local TV coverage". Broadcasters argue fees paid by cable companies are key to sustaining local news, sports and weather, while also making it possible to continue providing free broadcast services to the community.

      It's a battle that could be decided in congress as key legislation awaits passage. Both sides agree the outcome could ultimately change how we watch television. Frederick says "We're saying lets not call it free TV if you're gong to charge so much for it". Wharton says "fundamentally this about whether you believe the cable company arguing that they are pro consumer, I think you ask one hundred people on the street if there cable companies are pro consumer they just doesn't pass the laugh test."

      The law the cable companies want to change regulates satellite transmissions not broadcasters. The proposed change would prevent broadcaster's ability to withhold programming during negotiations.