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WFSB, Optimum still far apart

February 26, 2017 GMT

ROCKY HILL — It’s been six weeks since cable TV customers in Milford, Orange and Woodbridge have been able to watch “NCIS,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Code Black” or any other show on the CBS television network.

That’s because Optimum, the cable company that services those communities, is bickering with CBS-affiliate WFSB over how much it should pay the Rocky Hill TV station to carry its signal.

WFSB Channel 3 has also disappeared from the Optimum’s footprint in Fairfield County, but at least those homes can catch CBS shows on New York’s WCBS. Still, as WFSB is quick to point out, those viewers are missing out on the station’s Connecticut-based news, weather and public service programming.

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Officials from both companies say that they have a long way to go to settle the matter, and the politicians who have weighed in on the issue seem inclined to agree. Each company has blamed the other of being unreasonable, acting in bad faith, and, in essence, not caring about their viewers.

One of those stuck in the middle is Judy Laxar, who lives in Milford’s Devon section.

“I love to watch ‘60 Minutes,’ and the sports shows on CBS, particularly golf and Hoosier basketball,” she said. “And it been almost two months now.”

Litchfield County, too

Cable viewers in Litchfield County are having to make do without CBS, too.

“We’ve sent letters to both sides hoping to bring them together,” said Torrington Mayor Elinor Carbone. “It’s not good that we don’t have access to CBS — one of the major networks — and we also miss the local coverage that they provide, too.”

Carbone said that she has a meeting planned with Optimum officials this week in hopes of breaking the deadlock. But talk to officials from both companies, and it seems that there’s no love lost.

“WFSB’s demands are unprecedented — they are demanding a higher rate than what we pay for any other broadcast station across the entire Optimum footprint including Connecticut, even as the number of Optimum customers who watch WFSB has consistently declined,” said Janet Meahan, a spokeswoman for Optimum.

She said WFSB is asking for “an 800 percent increase,” and that the station has turned down offers to leave Channel 3 on Optimum during the talks.

But WFSB General Manager Klarn DePalma said that it’s Optimum, and it’s parent, Altice, that are keeping thousands of households from their beloved CBS.

“Bottom line — we have negotiated with many other cable companies and in every case we were able to come to an agreement — not so with Optimum,” DePalma said. “We are looking for fair price for our product. And they have not even responded to our last counter-offer that we made back on January 22nd.”

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Apologies, accusations

Press “3” on your cable TV remote and you’ll see this message on your TV: “We apologize for the inconvenience that WFSB has caused and thank you for your patience as we work diligently with them to come to a fair agreement.”

WFSB, meanwhile, has a similar message on its website: “... WFSB has been trying for months to get Optimum to negotiate seriously. WFSB has successfully reached fair agreements with every major cable and satellite company.”

Since neither company, despite repeated requests, will talk about how much WFSB is asking nor how much Optimum is willing to pay, viewers are at loss to determine which company is causing the blackout.

This isn’t the first time that Optimum has gotten into the dirt tub with WFSB. The station was pulled off of Cablevision in January 2014 for 16 days when the two couldn’t come to an agreement. Sources told the Post that this time around, the two sides are quite a bit farther apart than they were three years ago.

Cablevision, as Optimum is often called, officially ceased to exist in 2016 when it was taken over by European telecommunications giant Altice, which completed its $17.7 billion takeover of Cablevision in June.

Avenues of acces

There are options, however. Subscribers can switch to a DSL service (for Digital Subscriber Line) from either Frontier or AT&T. This uses the phone line to transmit internet data to your home. There’s also a dizzying array of streaming options including Apple TV, Verizon’s Fios TV, Hulu, Playstation’s Vue, AT&T’s DirecTV, Amazon Fire and more. Some of these get their content from a satellite dish, some from the internet, some from a fiber-optic network.

You can also stream CBS shows directly from the network through its “CBS All Access” service, which is $9.99 a month. This content is offered without advertising.

Then there’s also the option of receiving WFSB over the air, although for many of the affected homes, that’s not an option. The transmitting antenna is situated on Talcott Mountain in Avon.

These choices, however, can be bewildering, particularly the elderly, who have been getting their TV channels from Cablevision since the 1970s, said state Rep. Kim Rose, the Democrat who represents Milford’s West End. She, like Mayor Carbone, has been trying to get the two sides together.

And state Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford and Orange, has even asked the FCC to intervene.

WFSB has been owned since 1997 by the Meredith Corporation, better known to most as the publisher of Better Homes & Gardens, Family Circle and about 20 other home, hobby and family-centered magazines. Meredith owns 14 other TV stations throughout the U.S. Old-timers might remember when WFSB had the call letters WTIC (for Travelers Insurance Corp.)

The station first signed on in 1957 and the switch from WTIC to WFSB occurred in 1974. Channel 3 has had three owners over the years.

Six cable companies provide service to homes in Connecticut. In addition to Optimum there is Comcast, Metrocast, Charter Communications, Cox and Thames Valley. Except for the southeast corner of the state where folks can choose between Comcast and Thames Valley Communications, all of these cable companies have monopolies over the communities that they serve.

jburgeson@ctpost.com