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Dish, Fox in dispute over television rates -- Resulting loss of regional sports channels upsets Minnesota Twins fans

Satellite TV provider Dish Network and Fox are caught in a bitter dispute, and some local viewers find themselves caught in the middle.

Dish has balked at paying a rate increase Fox demanded more than six months ago. So at the beginning of this month, Fox blocked access for Dish subscribers to 19 regional sports channels, FX and the Discovery Channel.

The loss snuck up on some unsuspecting area viewers and angered others, especially Twins fans who looked to catch the final regular-season games on Fox Sports North.

"It's very frustrating because I upgraded my Dish package to watch the games," said Amy Gilmore, a fan in Moorhead. "I don't get what I am paying for."

Dish would not say how many subscribers they have locally, but according to SNL Kagan, a media analysis firm, there are more than 41,200 between Fargo and Valley City, N.D.

Some in the area shrugged off the abrupt loss of channels. Fresh back from an out-of-town trip, Ernie Schanilec of Vergas, Minn., tuned in to Fox Sports North on Monday - and caught a Dish spokesman telling the company's side of the dispute story.

Last week at OB Sports Zone in downtown Fargo, the evening manager tried to put on the third-to-last Twins regular-season game, to the same effect. Though the staff likes the high-definition Fox Sports coverage, the bar does have a Cable One subscription, too, so the manager just switched the channel.

"We haven't really seen much of the controversy here," said Nate Johnson, a daytime manager who recounted the story.

But for viewers such as Gilmore, the loss of programming was a major nuisance. When she signed up with Dish last spring, she paid $5 extra a month for Fox Sports coverage.

She caught one of the games last week in a bar, but, she said, "It's really loud and crowded, and, most of the time, you can't hear the announcer."

She even looked into canceling her Dish subscription, but she can't get out of a three-year contract. The fact that Dish is offering a slew of extra channels for free is not much of a solace: "If it's not coverage of the Twins, it's not really making up for anything."

Francie Bauer, a Dish spokeswoman, couldn't say whether the company lost subscribers over the flap. She said feedback from customers is supportive: "Our customers appreciate that we continue to fight hard for fair contracts that won't raise their prices in the long run."

The two sides to the dispute traded jab-filled news releases. Dish says the Fox demand amounts to a 50 percent increase and accuses the company of trying to "bully," "intimidate" and "shake down" the satellite provider.

Fox denies it's seeking a 50 percent increase and accuses Dish of a "legendary history of irrational negotiations with television programmers."

On Oct. 31, a Dish agreement to carry Fox News, Fox Business News and local Fox TV stations will also expire. Viewers might lose that programming, as well, meaning fans of "American Idol," "Glee," the National Football League and potentially the final three of baseball's World Series games would lose out.

Area viewers say they're not taking sides in the dispute. They just want their programming back.

"I can't determine who's to blame," Gilmore said. "They are probably both to blame, partially."