Time Warner Cable customers probably won’t know until the stroke of midnight tonight whether they will continue to get CBS television programming.

That is when a contract between Time Warner and Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., parent company of Portland’s CBS affiliate, WGME, is due to expire. The companies have been locked in a dispute over fees that the cable provider pays to have Sinclair’s 33 stations in its channel lineups.

Caught in the middle are the viewers, many of them football fans who could be left without access to Sunday’s regular season finale for the New England Patriots.

“This is not a good thing,” said David Munster, owner of David Munster’s TV in Portland.

Munster has been fielding phone calls from people who want to know whether they should buy an antenna to continue receiving WGME, if it disappears from the cable service.

Last-minute deals have been common in such TV industry disputes. But earlier this year, customers of Cablevision Systems Corp. lost Fox programming for more than two weeks, missing two World Series games.

On Tuesday, Sinclair announced that it was no longer negotiating with Time Warner, after the cable company rejected its offer of a monthly fee increase of 10 cents per subscriber, the same rate Sinclair has negotiated with other cable companies this year. Sinclair said its affiliate stations are received by 8.5 million Time Warner subscribers. About 200,000 to 300,000 of them are in southern Maine.

Time Warner officials said they remain willing to negotiate, but they would not discuss Sinclair’s latest offer.

“We are not getting into the specifics on the table,” said Andrew Russell, Time Warner’s spokesman in Portland.

Russell said Time Warner is looking at alternative ways to provide CBS programming to its customers in southern Maine, if no agreement is reached.

Munster said he is telling his customers to sit tight when it comes to buying “rabbit ears” antennas, which can cost anywhere from $20 to $90.

“All this is doing is forcing people to spend money, and for some people, it is money they don’t have,” said Munster.

MaineToday Media, publisher of The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal, the Morning Sentinel and the Coastal Journal, has a content sharing agreement with WGME.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

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