The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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March 10, 2013

Cable change criticized: Decision to drop Pittsburgh station brings complaints

JOHNSTOWN — KDKA’s main television signal is broadcast atop Pittsburgh’s Observatory Hill neighborhood, nearly 70 miles from Johnstown.

But the station has been carried locally for decades.

That will change on Friday.  

Atlantic Broadband says must drop the channel because of rising costs to carry it. The move has angered a number of local residents who say they will lose their main source for Pittsburgh sports, news and other Western Pa.-focused programming, even while the area’s Altoona-Johnstown CBS affiliate, WTAJ, will remain on the air-waves.

“KDKA has the best local sports coverage in western Pennsylvania,” Johnstown resident Debbie Chuba wrote to The Tribune-Democrat, saying she relies on in-depth coverage from Johnstown’s closest major city.  

“I am infuriated,” Ron D. Korber of Davidsville added.

Atlantic Broadband Chief Operating Officer David Dane said the decision to drop KDKA wasn’t easy.

In recent years, the cost to carry KDKA “nearly doubled,” he wrote, saying it forced the cable operator’s hand.

KDKA is owned by the CBS Network.

More HD channels will be added in its place, Dane said. And CBS favorites such as Sunday Steeler games, “Survivor,” “NCIS” and “The Amazing Race” will be aired by Atlantic Broadband to all cable subscribers through the WTAJ signal.

Chuba and other local residents vented that Johnstown is being robbed of cable competition.

But Atlantic Broadband’s role as the lone cable provider for the Johnstown region is far from rare in other cities across the nation, even though the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates broadcast communications has taken steps as recently as 2007 to encourage more competition among cable providers.

Cities, boroughs, townships and other municipalities are given the rights to bid on and negotiate franchise rights to their territories. For example, Richland Township entered into a 10-year agreement in April 2009 that allows Atlantic Broadband to serve Richland and maintain its lines for 5 percent of the profit generated from the area, their contract shows.

In 2012, that meant more than $180,000 in revenue to the township, township records show.

But efforts to seek other bidders to compete for franchise rights end up luring one bidder  – the current provider, local officials said.

“The companies all have their territories cut out and they respect each other’s,” said state Rep. Gary Haluska, D-Patton.

Haluska, in office since 1995, said during that time he’s never heard of a Pennsylvania effort to encourage more cable competition.

Part of that reason, local officials speculate, is because companies entrenched in their areas spend plenty of money maintaining cable lines and the system used to broadcast programming into homes and businesses.  Anyone else want-ing to do the same would have to use that company’s lines, too.

Still, TV owners have several options locally for channel-surfing needs.

Satellite providers such as DirectTV and Dish Network have become major players in the market, and phone companies like Verizon have also started offering cable packages.

In KDKA’s case, there are some alternatives for area viewers.

In addition to WTAJ’s programming, viewers can find some of KDKA-exclusive television on the CW Network, including early morning and 10 p.m. nightly news.

Some area viewers can also receive KDKA over the air through personal HD antennas, depending on their locations.

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