Cox customers can't watch KOLD Channel 13 on cable right now. That much both Cox Communications and KOLD parent Raycom Media agree on as they're locked in negotiations over a new carriage agreement.
Almost everything else, including whose fault it is that the station is off the air, is up to interpretation.
The previous agreement expired just before midnight Jan. 1. Since then the KOLD signal, as well as its digital channel, MeTV, has gone dark on Cox, replaced with messages from the cable company urging viewers to complain to KOLD.
KOLD, meanwhile, instructs readers on its website, tucsonnewsnow.com, on how to switch to one of Cox's competitors.
Cox spokeswoman Andrea Katsenes said Raycom pulled KOLD's signal.
"We have not been given permission by Raycom to carry the station for our customers," she said, adding that Cox is not legally allowed to carry KOLD without Raycom's permission due to the Copyright Act and Communications Act of 1934. Katsenes said Raycom sent Cox a letter on Dec. 27 saying the provider could not carry Raycom's channels without an agreement.
KOLD Vice President and General Manager Debbie Bush disagreed. She said Cox is blocking the station's signal.
"Cox pulled us off their system. We're still feeding our signal to Cox. They turned us off," Bush said by email.
Cox is believed to have 109,000 Tucson-area subscribers, Bush said.
Neither company would identify the terms of the contract or how far apart they are in their negotiation demands.
KOLD is demanding a rate increase of more than 200 percent, according to Cox's Katsenes.
Bush said KOLD is asking for an adjustment of less than 2 cents per day per subscriber.
Both sides downplayed the nature of customer complaints. Bush said KOLD has been "talking to a number of viewers" inquiring about the situation, and Katsenes said callers to Cox are backing the company.
"Calls from our customers have been supportive and understanding," Katsenes said. "Our customers applaud our efforts to fight on their behalf to keep costs reasonable that are paid to broadcasters."
The fine points of the standoff matter little to viewers, who are left without an important channel.
David Caballero, a 49-year-old law enforcement officer, is worried that he'll miss NFL playoff games scheduled to show on CBS in the coming weeks.
"My cable bill is already $195," he said. "For the amount we pay to bundle our services through Cox, it's just frustrating that one single channel that's free everywhere else isn't being carried by Cox. What does my $195 a month get me?"
Cable and satellite TV companies must negotiate carriage agreements with TV stations due to regulations in the Cable Television Consumer Protection Act, which went into effect in 1992. Raycom and Cox have been negotiating since October.
Raycom stations have also been pulled from Cox services in Louisiana, Virginia, Florida and Ohio.
Raycom was involved in similar negotiations with DirecTV in January 2011, but the sides struck a new deal and KOLD never went off the air.
Cox customer Vicki Small said she hopes the company provides a refund for the outage.
"Our agreement is with Cox, not with KOLD and not with Raycom," she said. "We're paying them for all the services they promised to provide, including local broadcast stations, and we're not getting that right now."
Katsenes said there are no current plans for a refund, and that Cox is fulfilling its end of the bargain.
"Our customers subscribe to a package of channels, not individual channels," she said. "We are continuing to provide our standard service to our customers and are focused on reaching an agreement that returns KOLD to our lineup."
Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or firstname.lastname@example.org