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There's very little danger of EPB subscribers losing FOX News and FOX Sports channels next week, despite a public relations push by the network to alarm viewers, said J.Ed. Marston, the vice president of marketing for the public utility.

"FOX wants to charge as much as possible for their channels. EPB is working on behalf of our customers to reduce the impact of FOX's price increase on the people we serve," Marston said. "We know many in our community want these channels, and we intend to continue to carry them."

In a full-page newspaper advertisement in the Times Free Press on Friday, FOX warns that its news and sports channels are at risk of going dark for EPB customers on Jan. 1, 2020. About 48,000 customers receive those channels, and EPB is negotiating rates for that content as part of the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC), Marston said.

"We've never had a content provider run an advertisement like this, but otherwise, this is a fairly typical negotiation," he said. "Our sole focus in this negotiation is providing our customers with channels they want while trying to keep content providers from driving up the price customers must pay for their programming."

The FOX ad urges concerned viewers to visit keepfoxnewsandsports.com or to call 1-800-KEEP-FOX to let EPB know their concerns.

"We are disappointed that the NCTC appears to be putting its own business objectives ahead of the needs of its members and their respective customers," FOX states in the advertisement. "Our priority is to reach a fair agreement with our valued partners without carriage disruption, which is why we offered each participating NCTC cable company at risk of losing FOX networks a short-term direct agreement to carry our networks without interruption. However, the NCTC has directed its members not to talk with FOX in a misguided attempt to fabricate an avoidable crisis."

The NCTC represents 750 cable companies across the country, and negotiates with content providers to offer their channels via those services.

By midday Friday, about 50 people had called EPB in response to the ad, Marston said.

Earlier this year, Sinclair Broadcasting and AT&T experienced a similar public dispute, leading to concerns that AT&T customers would lose access to local stations WTVC NewsChannel 9 and WDSI FOX Chattanooga, which is not affiliated with FOX News. The deadline was repeatedly extended until the two sides reached a deal, and customers never experienced an outage.

Contact Mary Fortune at mfortune@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6653. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.

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