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With negotiations gridlocked, DISH Network subscribers could soon lose local stations

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WATERTOWN - For some, local news channels could soon be dished.

Programming offered by Watertown stations WWNY-7 News and WNYF-Fox 28 to DISH Network subscribers could soon be discontinued, due to an impasse in talks between the satellite television provider and United Communications Corp., the Kenosha, Wisc.-based parent company of the stations.

At midnight Tuesday, the three-year contract between the two parties expired. It was thought DISH Network might discontinue programming at that time, but the company has informally agreed to continue broadcasting the stations and allow negotiations to extend beyond the deadline, said Kenneth L. Dowdell, vice president of United Communications.

The gridlock between the two parties isn’t related to financial terms or the length of the contract, however, which were agreed to in August. Disagreements involve United’s programming rights as an affiliate of CBS and FOX.

“I don’t think anyone wants to take services off the network,” Mr. Dowdell said Tuesday. “I would have hoped to reach an agreement yesterday, and I look at it as a business relationship we need to keep working at to avoid an interruption if we can. Subscribers have to know there’s a chance they could lose services, but we’re going to continue to provide programming over the air and through our other pipelines.”

United has stipulated that DISH will need to be willing to make some concessions for the parties to reach a deal, Mr. Dowdell said.

But if that doesn’t happen soon, there’s a strong likelihood subscribers will lose the two stations.

“We don’t have monetary issues, but contractual issues that need to be resolved,” Mr. Dowdell said. “We see this as a valid negotiation, but I don’t know that DISH sees it as anything negotiable. At this point, we’re essentially at an impasse.”

Contract agreements between major networks and providers, like Time Warner and DISH Network, have become increasingly challenging, Mr. Dowdell said. Time Warner Cable, for example, recently threatened to drop CBS from its lineup before the two sides reached an agreement in September.

“Everyone is trying to protect themselves in a digital world, and programming rights are delicate things,” he said. “As station operators, we’re one of the legs of the stools. We bring value in the community with programs, but we also need to operate in a system that makes them run uninterruptedly.”

A call made Tuesday to media relations at DISH Network was not returned.

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