Charter is suing the city of El Centro, California to stop what it calls “an unlawful interference” in the carriage dispute between the cable operator and Northwest Broadcasting.

Charter has been without 11 Northwest-owned local stations since February 1 due to a dispute between the two companies over carriage fees.

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El Centro, whose residents watch KIEM-TV, the NBC affiliate in Eureka, California and KVIQ, the CBS affiliate in Eureka, is one of three towns that have filed a complaint against Charter with the Federal Communications Commission.

The three cities (Yuma, Arizona and Jackson Hole, Wyoming are the others) allege that Charter violated FCC regulations by failing to notify their customers 30 days in advance that they could lose the local channels.

The cities are asking the FCC to rule that Charter violated FCC rules, and provide refunds to affected subscribers.

In its lawsuit against El Centro, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of California, Charter maintains that the FCC complaint is intended to “pressure’ it to carry the channels regardless of the price requested by Northwest.

Charter has repeatedly claimed that Northwest is asking for excessive carriage fees, and pulled its signals when the cable operator refused to pay. Northwest denies both charges, adding that Charter removed the channels.

“The city has no right to interfere with Charter’s commercial negotiations, nor its customer relationships, or the programming it carries. The city’s action violate and are preempted by California law,” states the Charter lawsuit, which seeks “declaratory and injunctive relief.” has asked the city of El Centro for a comment and will report back here if we receive one.

Update: The city of El Centro responds: “The City’s initial response to the complaint is that it is ill-founded, lacks significant legal merit and is retaliatory to the City’s efforts to obtain the cable services it (as a subscriber) and, more importantly, its residents pay for.“

Brian Brady, the CEO of Northwest Broadcasting, said today that “it appears that Charter would rather bully a small municipality than to engage in a good faith negotiation.”

The 11 Northwest-owned stations that have been blacked out on Charter since the dispute began are:

KSWT-TV, the CBS affiliate in Yuma, Arizona; KYMA-TV, the NBC affiliate in Yuma; KIEM-TV, the NBC affiliate in Eureka, California; KVIQ, the CBS affiliate in Eureka, KAYU-TV, the Fox affiliate in Spokane, Washington; WSYT-TV, the Fox affiliate in Syracuse, New York; WICZ-TV, the Fox affiliate in Binghamton, New York; KMVU-TV, the Fox affiliate in Medford, Oregon; KFFX-TV, the Fox affiliate in Yakima, Washington; KAYU-TV, the Fox affiliate in Spokane, Washington; and KPVI-TV, the NBC affiliate in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

— Phillip Swann