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Back when Adelphia had the monopoly on the cable television business here, old man Rigas and his sons seemed quite content to rob their shareholders, looting the company they founded and ran.

Now they're in prison, and media giant Time Warner Communications has taken over the franchise. But rather than robbing its shareholders to benefit themselves, Time Warner has come up with a new twist -- robbing its subscribers in order to benefit its shareholders.

Such a fine line between clever and stupid, don't you know.

Subscribers in this football-crazy community missed the Chiefs-Broncos matchup on Thanksgiving Day, and will miss seven more games televised by the new NFL Network because Time Warner refused to pay for them. Likewise, the nationally televised University at Buffalo-Wisconsin game was seen by college-football fans everywhere but here in Western New York.

Now Time Warner is threatening to cut the Fox Network and MyTV -- Channels 6 and 8 in Niagara Falls -- if a deal can't be reached by New Year's Day.

In addition to the loss of four more NFL broadcasts, the move would eliminate Major League Baseball from the Buffalo television market altogether, as well as popular shows like "The Simpsons," "24," "American Idol" and daily reruns of "Seinfeld."

As yet unannounced are whether Time Warner will cut its subscription rates to reflect the reduced service (don't bet on it) or exactly what sort of religious, shopping, bad cartoon, public access or infomercial programming will replace the real programming we all thought we were getting when we signed up for cable in the first place.

While the number of people here who watch football on television would fill a phone book, the number interested in watching, say, Niagara County Legislature meetings wouldn't fill a phone booth, as evidenced by the number of people who actually attend the meetings.

In fact, we'd like to see a blackout rule imposed where no meeting of the county Legislature, Niagara Falls City Council or Lockport Common Council could be televised unless more people showed up for the live meeting than could be safely accommodated under the current fire codes.

Meanwhile, some of us will continue to suffer from Time Warner's pennywise and pound-foolish business practices. Others -- many others, we suspect -- will go out and help make those selling satellite TV service richer than they already are.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com November 28 2006