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Weather Channel says safety at risk in dispute

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — The Weather Channel asked its viewers Saturday to urge Congress to intervene in its business dispute with DirecTV, arguing that it can harm public safety if the satellite system pulls the network off the air for nearly 20 million viewers.

The network's contract with DirecTV expires at the end of Monday. If an agreement on how much DirecTV pays The Weather Channel is not reached by then, TWC will likely stop airing on the system. The Weather Channel is asking for a "negligible" increase in what DirecTV pays to air the channel, spokeswoman Shirley Powell said. While hoping for an agreement, "right now it's not looking so good."

DirecTV notes that there are many other ways its customers can get weather forecasts. David Clark, president of The Weather Channel, said Saturday he has no problem essentially equating his television network to a public utility. The Weather Channel is part of the NBC Universal stable of networks and is owned by Comcast Corp., the nation's largest cable company.

"Yes, it is a privately held company and a for-profit" enterprise, Clark said. "That's OK. What also happens to be true is that we have a mission to serve." The network is essential to television viewers at times of severe weather, he said.

DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer said that the satellite service launched its own service, Weather Nation, in response to consumer complaints about the amount of reality programs that The Weather Channel airs instead of weather forecasting.

Local weather information is also available on local network affiliates offered by DirecTV, and during severe weather, the system also makes its emergency channels available for weather programming, he said.

"We remain in discussions with The Weather Channel on how to provide its service to our customers at the best value since people now use so many other ways to retrieve weather-related information," he said.

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