- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 14, 2010

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A fight over programming fees has taken a new hostage: the season premiere of AMC’s “Mad Men” on July 25.

AT&T Inc. said Wednesday that Rainbow Media, a subsidiary of Cablevision Systems Corp., is playing hardball in fee negotiations over three channels: AMC, IFC and WE tv.

Their current agreement expires at midnight Wednesday. If no deal is reached, AT&T said that Rainbow may pull its signals, leaving those channels dark for some 2.3 million of AT&T’s U-verse TV subscribers in 22 states such as California and Texas.

The fight is reminiscent of earlier fee disputes between cable operators and content providers. Consumers were put in the crossfire as those down-to-the-wire talks jeopardized shows like the Oscar awards and college bowl season.

Like in other disputes, both sides are making their cases on websites. AT&T has said it is fighting for consumers and wants to hold the line on fee increases, while Rainbow says its programs are worth it.

AT&T alleges that Rainbow has made unreasonable demands, including saying that AT&T could keep its existing lineup only if it also pays for such channels as Sundance Channel and Wedding Central.

The telecoms giant also made a point of singling out Rainbow’s parent company, Cablevision, the nation’s fifth largest cable operator, which itself has had contentious negotiations with other channel providers.

In separate fee disputes this year, Cablevision customers have experienced brief blackouts of The Walt Disney Co.’s ABC broadcast signal and Scripps Networks Interactive Inc.’s Food Network and HGTV.

“It’s unfortunate that Rainbow Media, owned by Cablevision, is clearly not negotiating in good faith … and is acting in a way that harms competition and limits consumer choice,” AT&T said in a statement.

Rainbow said it has been negotiating in good faith for several weeks and said it was AT&T that was threatening to pull the plug.

“We are disappointed that AT&T is publicly threatening to take away our networks, including AMC’s `Mad Men,’ just days before the season premiere,” it said.

___

On the Web:

AT&T U-verse, https://att.com/fighting4you

Rainbow Media, https://www.iwantmytvchannels.com

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