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Charter responds to Rep. John Tanner’s inquiry

Charter responds to Rep. John Tanner’s inquiry
Even after numerous phone calls and letters from customers in two counties, Charter Communications stood behind its reasoning for dropping three Tennessee stations from its cable programming. With an influx of angry customers in Weakley and Obion counties, area leaders united last week in an effort to bring the channels back to the basic line-up offered to Charter cable customers in the two-county region. On Dec. 12, Charter cable customers found they no longer had access to programming from Memphis as well as Nashville. Discontent at the change sparked a request by Con. John Tanner for the company to reinstate the programming that he felt Northwest Tennessee customers should receive from the cable television giant. In a message to local media outlets, representatives with Charter Communications cited it was necessary for the company to drop three channels — WTVF (CBS) of Nashville; WMC (NBC) of Memphis and WPTY (ABC) also of Memphis, to expand their bandwidth for future digital programming. Charter noted that the basic cable package already carried the “in-market” versions of the programming through the Cape Girardeau, Mo., Paducah, Ky. and Jackson channel line-up. Charter said the three Tennessee affiliated channels recently dropped from its programming were “out-of-market” stations. Tanner issued a request in a formal letter to Charter Communications East Divisional President Joshua Jamison that the company reinstate the Nashville and Memphis programming as it broadcasts state legislative news, as well as Tennessee Titans professional football games. Tanner also requested Jamison to explain what steps the company took in preparing customers for the significant change in service. “I understand that there are avenues available to keep retransmitting these stations,” Tanner noted in the letter. On Friday, Jamison issued a written response to Tanner’s letter citing why the company opted to eliminate the programming for customers in Weakley and Obion counties. “Dear Congressman Tanner: Thank you for your inquiry regarding the recent channel lineup changes in Obion and Weakley counties. As you know, these changes resulted in dropping the distant, duplicative network stations and were necessitated by a number of factors. First, the carriage of duplicative stations takes up extremely valuable bandwidth. In order to ensure that the residents of the 8th District of Tennessee are kept as up to date with innovative products and advanced services offered to other customers in the state and across the country, Charter must reclaim bandwidth to be able to provide highly demanded high-definition (HD) programming, faster Internet speed and other advanced services. Specifically, in response to numerous and frequent requests for additional choices in HD programming from many of our customers, including Mayor Terry Hailey of Union City, in 2008 in Obion and Weakley counties. Charter added 11 HD channels as well as 16 additional digital channels. Current plans allow for an additional five HD channels in 2009. Similarly, Video On Demand (VOD), also a much requested service, is being rolled out for the first time for your constituents in Union City and Martin. All of these highly requested consumer choices require bandwidth to deploy. In addition, bandwidth reclamation is critical to the upcoming digital transition in February. Charter is required by the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) to carry the digital feed, including the HD feed of any broadcaster, who currently has channel placement on our system. These channels consume twice the bandwidth of any analog channel and we must be able to provide capacity to accommodate this change in order to ensure a successful digital transition. While we understand the passion surrounding the request for Nashville news in the Union City and Martin markets, the aforementioned bandwidth challenges, make the “distant signal” broadcasters outside the station’s Designated Market Area (DMA) no longer a viable option. Our Tennessee government relations director had discussions with WTVF – CBS Affiliate in Nashville and there is no desire on their part to gain “significantly viewed” status in that market. Congressman, the regulatory hurdles you mention are indeed challenging and we appreciate your support in our compliance with the FCC requirement. The in market stations within the DMA are financially dependent on exclusive carriage in their Designated Market Area and I am certain that they would tell you that competing for advertising dollars with a distant signal heavyweight Nashville CBS station would be detrimental to the local economy. I want to put your concerns about the safety and well-being of our customers in Martin and Union City to rest. The ABC and FOX stations in Jackson, TN – both of which have “significantly viewed” status in the market, broadcast weather information relative to Martin and Union City as well as the regional and cultural interests to residents in those communities. Charter of course is part of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and the majority of our customers in those communities have access to The Weather Channel. Charter also takes its customer, station and state notifications seriously. At least thirty days prior to the scheduled changes, Charter provided Tennessee customers notification through local newspapers and, in some instances, bill staffers or postcards. Unfortunately, the final programming changes were not made in time to permit individual mailings to every customer. Charter also provided written notifications to the affected broadcast stations. Until seven months ago, Charter would also provide notification of programming changes to local franchise authorities, in addition to our customers. However, with the passage of the statewide franchise bill in Tennessee, Charter now sends its notification to the Tennessee Regulatory Authority. Written notice was sent to the TRA 30 days prior to the channel line-up changes. As referenced in your letter, Charter did mail a channel line-up card to all its digital customers (approximately 4,700 customers) to notify them of scheduled changes to its digital and HD programming. However, this channel line-up card was printed prior to finalizing the analog changes, and unfortunately included the Nashville CBS station. We apologize for any confusion this has caused. It is our sincerest goal to provide our customers with the value and choices that they depend on Charter Communication to deliver. In doing that, some tough choices must inevitably be made by Charter in order to continue to make most efficient use of bandwidth. I appreciate your interest in this important matter and hope that this information clarifies the challenges we face in balancing our programming needs and customer desires. Please know that we are committed to exploring means to address your concerns and feel free to contact me if you have additional questions or concerns at 203-304-4071.” Joshua Jamison Divisional President/East Charter Communications, Inc. Tanner’s press secretary Randy Ford issued a statement from Tanner on Monday citing the congressman was “disappointed with Charter’s decision not to restore Tennessee programming and continues to feel its customers were not adequately notified of these changes.” “We will continue working to ensure Northwest Tennesseans have access to Tennessee-specific programming important to our community,” according to Tanner’s written statement.

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