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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

TVS Cut Off in 220,000 Apartments

Mostelecom cable television has begun cutting off TVS broadcasts to Moscow households amid a dispute over fees it claims it is owed.

As of late Tuesday, the city government-controlled company had blocked TVS from 220,000 apartments in southern Moscow, and officials promised that all of its 3 million subscribers would be left without the channel by Friday.

Moscow residents can still use antennas to watch TVS, but the reception is much poorer.

TVS has been flooded with hundreds of calls from viewers complaining that they cannot view the channel since Mostelecom started the switch-off on Monday, TVS spokeswoman Tatyana Blinova said.

No advertisers have complained yet, she said.

Mostelecom general director Alexander Mokhnov said Tuesday that TVS owes $8 million in "service fees" and insisted that removing the channel was "purely a business decision," Interfax reported.

Calls to Mokhnov's office went unanswered Tuesday. A Mostelecom official reached Tuesday evening refused to spell out exactly what the fees were.

Blinova said Mostelecom has failed to spell out what services TVS must pay for and called the $8 million bill excessive.

Media-Sotsium, which holds TVS's broadcasting license, and Mostelecom have been negotiating over the bill since the beginning of the year.

Last week, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov's spokesman lashed out at TVS for not paying Mostelecom and for what he called critical coverage of high-ranking city officials.

Media-Sotsium officials, who include former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, sent an 11th-hour appeal to Luzhkov not drop TVS from the cable network.

Media-Sotsium will continue to try to settle the dispute but will sue Mostelecom for switching off its broadcasts if no deal is reached, Blinova said.

TVS broadcasts to 68 of Russia's 89 regions and has a potential audience of more than 80 million people, according to TVS's web site.

The switch-off is the latest headache for a channel plagued by management disputes, low ratings and growing debts.

TVS technicians warned the channel's editor-in-chief, Yevgeny Kiselyov, last week that they would stop working if they do not get paid soon, Blinova said. TVS's editorial and technical staff members have gone without pay since April, and they also are waiting to receive part of their December and January salaries, she said.

Alexei Samokhvalov, head of the National Research Center of Television and Radio, said he doubted Mostelecom's moves were politically motivated because TVS is far from the only television channel to air critical reports about the city government.

"Mostelecom may be trying to get the fees paid given TVS's uncertain future," said Samokhvalov, who helped draft the federal regulations on broadcasting licenses.

The uncertain future he was referring to is linked to a lawsuit filed against the channel by the Boris Berezovsky-controlled Moscow Independent Broadcasting Corp., or MNVK, which is challenging Media-Sotsium's rights to hold a broadcast license for channel 6, which it lost in January last year.