While the Iowa Hawkeyes prepare for their biggest bowl game in years, thousands of their fans back home may be scrambling to find a TV to watch them.
A dispute between Mediacom Communications Corp. and Sinclair
Broadcasting Group could leave 700,000 cable subscribers in 11
states without some local channels on Jan. 1. That includes about
400,000 subscribers in Iowa, most of whom will lose the channel
televising the Jan. 5 Orange Bowl between Iowa and Georgia Tech.
"It's a huge outrage," said Brandon Huggins, a store clerk at
a university apparel shop in Iowa City, home to the Hawkeyes. "I'd
like to think they'll figure something out, or make an exception
for Iowa City."
Barry Faber, executive vice president and general counsel to
Hunt Valley, Md.-based Sinclair, said he's "very pessimistic" an
agreement will be reached with Middletown, N.Y.-based Mediacom by
Dec. 31, when the current three-year deal ends.
That means customers in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and
other Iowa cities will miss the Orange Bowl unless they find a TV
with a satellite connection or rely on an antenna.
The dispute also threatens to knock off Sinclair stations to
Mediacom customers in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois,
Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Shows such as "NCIS," "American Idol" and "24" as well as the
Super Bowl and the BCS national championship game could be at
Mediacom and Sinclair have been negotiating a new retransmission
agreement since April. Faber said Sinclair, a video programming
wholesaler, hasn't been able to agree with Mediacom on the price
for the right to resell the programming.
Mediacom claims it's about holding down costs for consumers.
"For our customer's best interest (we) want to be sure it's a
fair price and we can do our best to hold down the cost," company
spokeswoman Phyllis Peters said.
This is the second time the two companies have been locked in a
standoff. The current contract was worked out after Sinclair
stations were pulled from Mediacom for about five weeks in early
2007. A new agreement was reached two days before the Super Bowl.
This time, Peters said, Sinclair is demanding a significant
increase, although neither company would divulge the price.
Mediacom has asked the Federal Communications Commission to get
involved and prevent a disruption of service.
"Consumers are really being played as pawns in this," Peters
With the Iowa game approaching, Peters said members of the
state's congressional delegation, Gov. Chet Culver, legislative
leaders and a host of Iowa mayors have sent letters to the FCC.
"None of them are saying one party is right and one party is
wrong. All are saying consumers have a stake in this and the FCC
needs to look at what it can do to prevent customers from being
harmed while good-faith negotiations continue," she said.
An FCC spokeswoman declined comment.
At Paul's Discount Store in Iowa City, the shop windows are
covered in festive Hawkeye signs, but inside store manager Dick
Irvin is fuming about the disagreement that may force him to seek
an invite from a friend with a satellite dish.
"I think greed is part of this whole thing. It really comes
down to greed," Irvin said. A bowl game "happens once a year, if
that, and this one is so big."