Portland Residents Upset over Loss of Lansing TV Stations

Tuesday, Mar 08, 2016

The elimination of Lansing television stations from the city's cable television lineup has Portland leaders and residents up in arms.

WOW Internet, Cable and Phone, the city's cable television provider, dropped the Lansing stations in favor of local stations from Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo.

WOW service manager Dominic Silvio told the city council last month that the move was made due to Ionia County's placement in the Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo Designated Market Area (DMA). The Federal Communications Commission uses the DMAs to determine in-market and out-of-market stations.

"It was a business decision to follow the DMA as other service providers do," Silvio said. "We understand that there is frustration and that this is not popular, but it had to be made."

Council member Joel VanSlambrouck noted that a majority of Portland residents work and shop in Lansing, not Grand Rapids.

"We do our business to the east and they are forcing us to go west because they want to," VanSlambrouck said. "We can accept rate hikes but not when they are also taking away what we consider valuable information like news, information and shopping from Lansing."

Mayor Jim Barnes agreed that residents do more business in Lansing than Kalamazoo.

"It seems that they are giving us a selection of channels that are of no interest to our residents," Barnes said. "And I don't think anybody is happy about it."

The channel change came after WOW increased its service charge by $15 per month for customers with cable, Internet and telephone service. Customers that have cable and one other service received a $14 per month increase.

Under federal communications laws, cable and satellite television providers serving a DMA must carry the local broadcast stations that are based in that DMA if those stations request to be carried. Stations located outside of the market may also be carried so long as the providers negotiate a retransmission agreement with the station.

Also under non-duplication and syndicated exclusivity rules, providers carrying out-of-market stations may also be required to black out that station when it is broadcasting a program that is also being broadcast on the in-market station, provided that the in-market station makes that request.

Peter Smith, WOW vice president of programming, wrote in a letter to Portland City Manager Tutt Gorman that the costs associated with negotiating those agreements and installing equipment to black out shared programming would be too expensive.

"The overall 'cost' of doing this, including programming fees, freeing up the required bandwidth, and purchasing capital equipment would, over time, essentially double the cost to WOW! of providing local TV stations in Mid-Michigan," Smith wrote.

The FCC also maintains a list of significantly viewed stations, which are local stations that have a significant viewership outside of their DMA. Stations on the FCC's significantly viewed list could also be subject to black out, should the in-market station request them.

Lansing stations on the significantly viewed list for Ionia County include WLNS TV-6 and WSYM TV-47.

Gorman said the city understands that WOW officials made the decision in the best interests of their business.

"However, the city has to be responsible to its residents and we will want to explore what options we have."


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