WLEX-TV, DirecTV try to end money dispute so the local station can reach customers

Thousands of DirecTV subscribers in Central and Eastern Kentucky are blocked from watching WLEX-TV, while the station's owner and DirecTV remain at loggerheads over a new fee agreement.

Each side blamed the shutdown on the other, arguing that the other has made unreasonable demands. Accounts of the disagreements conflict.

DirecTV spokesman Tom Tyrer said in a statement Friday that the satellite TV company has "every intention of seeing that WLEX is returned to our customers as soon as possible."

Meanwhile, a statement posted Friday on the WLEX website said that company officials "are committed to maintaining negotiations with DirecTV and hope to reach a mutually beneficial agreement soon that minimizes service disruptions to our valued customers."

WLEX went dark on the television screens of DirecTV customers after midnight Wednesday. DirecTV and Cordillera Communications, which owns or operates WLEX and 12 other stations around the United States, couldn't reach agreement on the amount of fees that DirecTV pays for carrying Cordillera's stations.

Cordillera and DirecTV have negotiated since late October, said Pat Dalbey, general manager at WLEX.

According to DirecTV, 10 Cordillera stations are affected by the dispute. WLEX is the only one in Kentucky.

Dalbey said Thursday that DirecTV stopped his station's signal when negotiations failed.

Tyrer, however, put the blame on Cordillera, saying that DirecTV is prohibited from dropping WLEX under a law that requires cable and satellite providers to carry local stations in their communities. He said DirecTV needs permission from Cordillera Communications to continue the WLEX signal, contending that Cordillera "will not provide us permission unless we commit our Lexington customers to paying nearly six times more just to have WLEX the same as before." The specific dollar amount wasn't disclosed.

Tyrer contended that "WLEX disconnected to try to ransom the station back."

Dalbey countered later Friday that the amount his side wants "really is less than 10 cents per day per customer."

He blamed DirecTV for not responding promptly to proposals Cordillera has made.

"It's frustrating for us not to have clearance because we feel we're part of this community," Dalbey said. "We do news and public service; we do all those things. But a large company located in California makes it look like we are the holdouts. We're not. But we need to have somebody who's willing on the other end."

Tyrer said by email that DirecTV submitted a new compromise fee proposal Friday afternoon.

Dalbey said he's suggesting that DirecTV customers request that the satellite company give them refunds for the WLEX programs they're missing while the disagreement continues.

Tyrer said that while talks are stalled, DirecTV is asking for permission to show Saturday night's Steelers-Ravens game on WLEX. However, he said Cordillera had refused to grant that permission.

According to Tyrer, DirecTV is legally prohibited from substituting the signal from some other NBC station while negotiations continue over the WLEX signal. The exact number of satellite customers that lost WLEX access wasn't disclosed.