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Fans call foul on dispute Cable customers wish opposing sides would play nice

Security guard Tyrone Jones called his own audible after learning the Bills game would not be on his TV set Sunday.

The result, he said, is that Time Warner Cable is losing a good customer.

"I'm getting my cable cut off as of tomorrow morning, and I am going to get [satellite TV]," said Jones, also a devoted viewer of Channel 4 morning news. "I called them already."

That could be seen as an extreme reaction even to other Bills fans who scrambled to watch Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals. A dispute between Time Warner Cable and LIN TV, which broadcasts on Channel 4, left an estimated 330,000 Time Warner Cable customers in Western New York unable to watch the game on their home televisions.

At crowded Devlin's Deuce Sports Bar & Grill in the Town of Tonawanda, which has satellite television, many watching the game on the bar's 12 screens expressed anger over the situation, although few expressly blamed Time Warner Cable or Channel 4 for the impasse.

"I'm hiding my rage. Seriously, it's ridiculous to have to stand here when I could be watching at my home," said Jordan Izzo of the Town of Tonawanda.

"I think it's unfortunate because since they can't come to an agreement we have to resort to other options to watch the game," said Joanna Muffoletto of West Seneca.

While many Bills fans crowded into bars with satellite television, about 10,000 watched at home using free "rabbit ears" dispensed at four Time Warner locations, including a West Seneca site that opened for two hours Sunday.

Bars without satellite hookup reported much smaller-than-usual turnouts. At Ying's Wings & Things in Amherst, just four customers were present when the Bills were mounting a second-quarter drive.

Time Warner Cable negotiators talked Sunday with representatives of LIN TV in a last-ditch effort to forge a breakthrough before the 4:15 p.m. game start, according to Time Warner spokeswoman Robin Wolfgang.

Time Warner claims LIN TV wants the cable company to pay an unreasonable fee to allow its customers to view WIVB, Channel 4, and its sister station, WNLO, Channel 23, warning it would encourage costly actions by other broadcasters.

The dispute also affects LIN TV owned stations and Time Warner cable systems in 11 other markets, including Indianapolis, and Green Bay, Wisc., where fans were also unable to watch the home team on their cable.

LIN TV says its fee demands are reasonable, and faults Time Warner for failing to reach a settlement over the past 45 days. The broadcaster cut its feed to Time Warner's Buffalo-area service early Friday morning after a Thursday night settlement deadline passed.

So instead of showing the Bills game, Time Warner Cable simulcast radio coverage from 97 Rock (WGRF-FM) in its Channel 4 slot.

Watching the game at Mister Goodbar, Paul and Amanda McDermott were angry by the situation, but disagreed on who to blame.

Paul McDermott said Time Warner should have asked subscribers what they thought, and suggested he would pay more to watch the Bills. His wife disagreed.

"I just don't want to pay more to watch football. I think I already pay a million dollars for cable and I don't think [LIN TV] should be charging [Time Warner] more," Amanda McDermott said.

Tom Mercurio of North Boston blamed both parties for having to watch the game at a bar instead of on his couch.

"I've been to Time Warner twice and they didn't have any antennas and no postings on the window. Thank you, Time Warner, you've taken wonderful care of us again. And thank you, Channel 4, for squeezing the market," Mercurio said.

Andy Kedzierski of Kenmore had a message for both parties: "Work out an agreement appropriate to both sides and just get it done. We're being held hostage."

Early in the first quarter, however, those concerns become secondary at the sight of quarterback Trent Edwards being knocked out of the game with a concussion.

"We definitely need Trent. We need him on the road to the Super Bowl, baby," Malik Johnson said.

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

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