Fox channels might be unavailable

Up to nine channels could be off Time Warner Cable systems in South Carolina today because of a dispute over subscriber fees.

The channels in question include seven owned by Fox - SportSouth, FX, Speed, Fuel, Fox Reality, Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Sports en Espanol.

Also at risk are a pair from Scripps Networks - Food Network and Great American Country.

Unaffected are Fox network affiliates in South Carolina, including Columbia's WACH, as well as Fox News. They remain on the state's dominant cable television provider.

A new agreement over how much Time Warner Cable pays programmers to carry those channels was expiring at midnight.

Fox has said it would pull its channels without a deal. A Scripps spokeswoman declined comment Thursday. Negotiations continued Thursday, but federal officials urged the sides to extend the current agreement to keep programming on the air if a new deal is not reached by the midnight deadline.

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Time Warner Cable customers in some cities nationwide - including New York, Los Angeles and Dallas - could lose their Fox network affiliates today because of the fee dispute. Those affiliates are owned by Fox's parent, News Corp.

WACH is not among those stations since it's owned by Barrington Broadcasting, based outside Chicago. Columbia's Fox affiliate has received more than 30 calls from viewers concerned that it too will go off Time Warner, WACH president Scott McBride said.

Time Warner's 430,000 customers in South Carolina will still be able to watch college and pro football games, "House," "24" and "American Idol," carried by the Fox broadcast channel.

If the dispute continues, however, Time Warner Cable subscribers could miss the start of new seasons for cable shows "Nip/Tuck" and "Damages" on FX and coverage of the upcoming NASCAR season on Speed.

They also could miss "Iron Chef" and Paula Deen's cooking shows on the Food Network.

Time Warner Cable plans to offer replacement programming on Fox-owned cable channels that could go dark if a fee deal is not reached.

Time Warner Cable, which has more than 150,000 subscribers in the Columbia area, said it's fighting "massive price increases" requested by some programmers.

The amount cable, satellite and phone TV operators pay in subscriber fees has grown by double digits each of the past three years, experts have said.

Those programming fees are passed on to subscribers. Last month, Time Warner Cable customers in South Carolina started paying $4 to $18 more a month for popular TV packages.

Fox says it provides the shows and events that draw viewers to pay TV offered by cable, satellite and phone companies. Fox says it just wants a more fair share of what Time Warner Cable charges customers.

Fights over subscriber fees blocking some channels from cable and satellite TV customers is nothing new.

The sports network Versus is no longer being carried on the DirecTV satellite service after the sides failed to reach a new fee deal in August. And Time Warner Cable has not carried the NFL Network, in part, over proposed subscriber fees.