We thought we'd be lucky enough to avoid getting into any retransmission consent disputes during this round of talks, but we never expected to see the sorts of demands that were being put forth by Fisher Communications. The broadcaster demanded substantially higher fees than those being requested by the other station owners in our Portland, Oregon market. We were also told that their ABC affiliated would be yanked from our channel lineup unless we agreed to all of their prices, terms, and conditions.
Similar to the problems described by Clear Creek Telephone & Television in the last ACAction Brief, Fisher was unwilling to budge in their demands, and eventually forced us to drop their station for four days. This caused significant disruptions for our customers. However, thanks to the help of our Congressman, and support from our customers, we were able to weather the storm and reach a more reasonable deal.
We tried to make sure that we were prepared for the worst. Once we knew that Fisher might pull their station from our lineup, we made sure to keep our customers and the press informed about the ongoing negotiations, and our unwillingness to give in to Fisher's exorbitant demands. The effort paid off. After Fisher pulled their station, we were amazed by all the supportive calls and emails from our customers, although we still did receive a few complaints. In all, I believe it was our willingness to share our story with the public that really helped bring them to our side.
We also made sure to keep our elected officials informed about our negotiations. As our talks with Fisher started to break down, Congressman Kurt Schrader (D-OR) proved to be a valuable resource. Concerned about the potential impact of this dispute on his constituents, he got involved. Rep. Schrader has his office talk with the Federal Communications Commission to learn about retransmission consent, and his staff also spoke with the lead negotiator for Fisher. His efforts brought Fisher back to the negotiating table and we eventually reached a deal. Although we knew we were still paying significantly more than fair market value, we concluded that this would be the best deal we'd see.
While we were able to reach a deal with all of the station owners in our market, retransmission consent remains a problem that Congress needs to fix. Only accounting for broadcast carriage fees, our programming costs in 2009 increased by more than 35% for our basic tier. As a small telephone company in Canby, OR trying to compete in a competitive video market, we cannot swallow these costs increases. It will eventually lead to higher costs for our 1,600 customers.
Over time, we hope more lawmakers will recognize the problem for small operators, like Rep. Schrader.
--Keith Galitz, President