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COMMERCE WEDNESDAY, MARCH 10, 2004 - 3 The Ukiah Daily Journal udjfeatures(5>pacific.net. Millions of DISH users lose Viacom channels By CATHERINE TSAI Associated Press Writer ENGLEWOOD, Colo. - Satellite television provider EchoStar Communications Corp. pulled the plug on MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and many CBS affiliates early Tuesday in a contract dispute with Viacom Inc. over the price of programming. As many as 9 million customers on EchoStar's DISH Network across the nation lost cable programming, and 1.6 million of them also lost their local CBS station, which could threaten their ability to watch the March Madness college basketball tournament. In place of Viacom programming, some customers in the Denver area saw a message from EchoStar saying the multimedia giant was asking an unreasonable amount for its programming. A statement from Viacom after the 6 a.m. PST contract deadline passed urged EchoStar customers to stop subscribing to the DISH Network. "Current EchoStar-DISH Network subscribers who would like to continue receiving BET. CBS, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Nick at Nile, and all our other channels can easily switch," said a statement from spokeswoman Susan Duffy after the channels were turned off. She said Viacom was "dismayed and disappointed" by the DISH Network decision, and said the company "refused to entertain a reasonable proposal or to negotiate in earnest. ...We have solid business partnerships with virtually every other satellite and cable TV operator - except for EchoStar-DISH Network," the statement said. In an EchoStar-DISH and Viacom dispute over the price of programming, 9 million customers with the DISH Network across the nation lost cable programming, and 1.6 million of them also lost their local CBS station. DISH also posted an announcement about the cancellation on its Web site, along with a pica for consumers to call CBS. "DISH Network will always have a place for CBS and we're willing to pay for retransmission rights, but Viacom is holding the public airwaves hostage, trying to extract concessions and higher rates on programming unrelated to CBS." EchoStar chairman Charles Ergen said in a statement released as the deadline for the cancellation approached. Echostar said Viacom had sought rate increases up to 40 percent over the length of the contract, which "potentially equates to hundreds of millions of dollars" in payments, Ergen said. EchoStar said it would provide $1 monthly credits to customers who lose CBS programming, and another $1 for those who subscribe to additional Viacom channels. But Viacom's statement said it couldn't understand EchoStar's position. "They recently hiked their subscribers' bills by as much as $3 a month. Yet they are unwilling to consider paying an additional six cents a month per subscriber for the right to cany our channels," the company said. DISH customers in markets in New York, Los Angeles. Chicago, Philadelphia. San Francisco, Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth. Detroit, Minneapolis, Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, Denver, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Salt Lake City, Green Bay, Wis., and Austin. Texas, lost their local CBS affiliate programs as well. Viacom and EchoStar began sparring after a contract for the DISH Network to broadcast Viacom channels expired Dec. 31. The contract was extended at least three times, voluntarily and by court orders. The latest court order for the programming to continue expired at the overnight deadline. In January, EchoStar filed a lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco alleging Viacom was illegally trying to force EchoStar to carry Viacom-owned MTV, Spike and other cable channels at unfair prices in exchange for the right to carry 18 CBS- owned stations in 16 media markets. Ergen had said previously he would rather drop CBS than submit to Viacom's demands. A similar dispute between Time Warner cable and ABC blacked out service to 3.5 million cable customers in 2000. The Wall Disney Co., ABC's corporate parent, had fought over how much money Time Warner had to compensate Disney for the right to carry some of its cable channels. Maria Isabel Garcia, right, works in the Mendocino Works resource room on Tuesday looking for employment information online. On Thursday, the Ukiah office will celebrate one year of having all the employment and job training agencies located in a "one-stop" center on Orchard Avenue. Melanie Brumwell, below, also uses the computers Tuesday in the Mendocino Works resource room. Amy Wellnitz/The Daily Journal One-stop job center to hold 1st anniversary open house The Daily Journal Mendocino Works job specialists will be on hand at an open house from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday to celebrate the first year anniversary of its Ukiah One-Stop Center. The job specialists will be present to discuss employment assessment, on-the-job training programs, financial incentives, employee recruitment, job search workshops, and many other services. Mendocino Works is a one-stop employment resource center, with locations countywide, that specializes in employment and training, and assist customers to find jobs or employees and train for new careers. Employers and job seekers can visit the resource center and learn about a variety of available tools and support relevant to their employment needs. Interview booths and conference rooms area also available by reservation for employer recruitment and training. The Ukiah One-Stop Center is located at 631 S. Orchard. For more information, call 468-1196. Albertsons, Kroger earnings blistered by California strike By JOHN NOLAN Associated Press Writer CINCINNATI - Two of the nation's largest grocery chains, Kroger Co. and Albertsons Inc., reported quarterly earnings on Tuesday that were dramatically reduced because of an extended labor strike and lockouts in southern California. Albertsons said its fourth- quarter income fell 37 percent, while larger rival Kroger reported a $337.4 million loss for the period, which included a large charge. For the three months ending Jan. 31, Kroger reported a loss of $337.4 million, or 45 cents per share, compared with earnings of $381 million, or 50 cents per share, a year earlier. Albertsons, based in Boise, Idaho, said it earned $130 million, or 35 cents per share, compared with profits of $205 million, or 54 cents a share, in the previous year. Both companies attributed their declines in part to a 4 1/2-month strike and lockout in California at Albertsons and Kroger's Ralphs stores. Besides the California dispute, about 3,300 union members from 44 Kroger stores in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia also walked for nearly two months over medical benefits. The two strikes reduced Cincinnati-based Kroger's earnings by $156.4 million after taxes, the company said. Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call had pre- See EARNINGS, Page 5 Robotic vehicles are struggling in Pentagon desert race trials By ELLIOT SPAGAT Associated Press Writer FQNTANA, Calif. - They're a motley bunch of garage tinkerers, off-road enthusiasts, high-school students, physicists and programmers who hope their microprocessor-jammed jalopies usher in the next generation of military combat vehicles, The question is, can any of these meticulously engineered, unmanned autos actually make it across the Mojave Desert on their own? On Saturday, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon's few-holds-barred research and development arm, will award $1 million to the first team whose robotic vehicle can cover a rugged desert course from Barstow, Calif., tp Prirnm, Nev., in less than 10 hours. The vehicles cannot be controlled remotely. They've got to navigate ail by themselves. "It's a marriage of the geeks and the greaseballs," said Sal Fish, a longtime desert off-road race promoter and the lead designer of the course. "If they go even two miles, I'll be in awe." Twenty teams tested their mettle in early week qualifying runs for the so-called Grand Challenge, part of Pentagon efforts to have one-third of all ground vehicles unmanned by 201 S. Five teams dropped out before Monday' 8 first "road" test. Two hows before the race begins, PARPA will give competitors a CD-ROM with Global Positioning System coordinates that chart the eastward course. A DARPA vehicle will be assigned to each robot contestant, with a judge ready to hit a kill switch if U goes astray. Helicopters will also monitor the action. DARPA officials are considering several See ROBOTIC, Page S commerce file By K.C. Meadows There's an organization called the Wine Country! InterRcgional Partnership that; has been bringing together plan-; ning agencies and local movers' and shakers in a four-country! area including Mendocino,; Lake, Sonoma and Napa, to try; to come up with solution to the- continuing growth in our area! and what can be done regionally! to plan ahead smartly. ; Among the Mendocino | County folks on the leadership' team are the Savings Bank's! Marty Lombardi, county [ Supervisor Hal Wagenet and; Fetzer's Joel Clark. • The Mendocino Council of! Governments has been leading', the administration of the effort, | which came with a grant from • the state of California that estab-! lished InterRegional partnership ', programs throughout the state to ; look at the imbalance of jobs and • housing in certain areas. ! Our four-county region is rec- ', ognized as having undergone; considerable change economi- • cally under the influence of, the '• Bay area and Silicon Valley's ! boom of the last decade. As a ; result we've seen housing prices skyrocket, traffic congestion expand and open space being, eaten up by development. What will happen in the next 20 years is the question? The Wine Country partner-; ship group is having an all-day meeting in Healdsburg on Thursday, March 25 at Villa Chanticleer to introduce facts, and figures it has compiled \ about what the future of housing' patterns and employment in our'' four-county area is and begin the ,' process of deciding how to deal' with it. It's being billed a "Stakeholder General Assembly," and anyone interested in planning for the future in our communities is invited to, attend. You need reservations, '. and if you're interested, call' MCOG at 463-1859 or go to the ' Web site at www.mendo-, cinocog.org. Among the speakers will be Stephen Wahlstrom, of Applied 1 Development Economics, plus, other panels discussing housing v wages and infrastructure needs ' of the future. The North Coast Winegrowers have issued their proposed wine prices for 2004.: with some comments on the • grape market. The wine group: says it sees a general trend ' toward oversupply of cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir due to,' increased availability of fruit;, from previously reported non-' bearing acreage. Exceptions are'. Napa cabs and Marin pinot where limited supplies keep the varietals highly priced. The winegrowers say demand for merlot is slipping but the light merlot crop of 2003 has kept supply and demand in balance. Syrah prices should remain stable although they predict a market softening this year. Zinfandel continues to have a strong market everywhere and prices will be solid. They think the downward spiral for chardonnay has ended and supply and demand is bal- ' ancing out with modest price increases this year. And sauvignon blanc prices will remain steady although wineries seem to be trying to pay less for it. I'll talk more next week about ! the actual prices, but, as always, ; Napa prices are much higher than ours and the difference between Sonoma County and ; Mendocino County prices. appears to have widened a little" this year.