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Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press - March 26, 2012. WTVC-News Channel 9.

With three great-grandchildren living with her and no internet connection at home, Goldia Harmon would hate to lose access to two of her favorite local television stations.

But Ms. Harmon was waiting Friday evening for WTVC NewsChannel 9 and WDSI FOX Chattanooga to go dark as the deadline passed for two communications giants — Sinclair Broadcasting and AT&T — to reach an agreement on retransmission rates.

"I don't want to pay for something I'm not going to get," said Ms. Harmon, a DirecTV subscriber who has lived in rural Lookout Mountain, Georgia, since 1971.

At issue are retransmission rates, the amount per subscriber that cable or satellite providers pay television providers for the content they get from local channels. The negotiations had already been extended five weeks past their original deadline, and talks continued into Friday evening as the deadline was extended to midnight.

Throughout the week, Sinclair warned AT&T DirecTV, AT&T TV Now and U-verse customers that they might lose access to TV stations owned by Sinclair if the companies couldn't reach a deal.

Sinclair owns, operates, or provides services to 191 television stations in 89 markets, including WTVC NewsChannel 9 and FOX Chattanooga. AT&T provides more than 100 million U.S. consumers with entertainment and communications across TV, mobile and broadband services.

This dispute affects access to local television stations for about 300,000 people across Tennessee, said Rob Ford, a spokesman for Sinclair.

"The current agreement with AT&T has been in place since 2016 and Sinclair is simply asking to renew under similar fair market terms that have already been agreed to by other major distributors," Ford said.

WTVC has shared advice on how viewers can continue to watch the ABC broadcast affiliate if the companies can't make a deal, including going old-school with rabbit ears to pick up the over-the-air signals for the local channels.

Barbara Rodgers, a North Georgia resident and DirecTV subscriber, remembers those contraptions. "I had them when I was a child," she said. "Where would I even get rabbit ears now?"

Sinclair contends that AT&T is unwilling to pay fair market value for the content it produces and funds — from local news programming to network content the ABC broadcast affiliate must pay to broadcast. AT&T, however, contends Sinclair is gouging cable providers for content that is also provided free over the air.

"Sinclair alone controls whether or not its stations remain available on any provider's lineup," said AT&T spokeswoman Ann Elsas in a written statement.

Todd Ricke, the general manager at WTVC, has been hearing from a steady stream of Chattanooga-area viewers who are unhappy about potentially losing access to their local stations.

"We don't want anything to happen to hurt our viewers," he said. "When they can't watch, it hurts us, too."

After a similar dispute earlier this year, The CW Chattanooga went dark for area subscribers to DirecTV.

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

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