Lobbyists Circulate Draft Letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin
By Ted Hearn -- Multichannel News, 12/10/2007 1:45:00 PM
Washington - The NFL Network is trying to get U.S. legislators to pressure the Federal Communications Commission into forcing Comcast and Time Warner into negotiating their differences with the league-owned pay-TV channel.
NFL Network lobbyists have circulated to legislators for their signature a draft letter to FCC chairman Kevin Martin stating that the agency should impose mandatory arbitration because the cable companies have little incentive to carry popular programming they don't own.
This market failure has imposed substantial burdens on consumers, who are unable to access popular programming, including games of their favorite sports teams, the Dec. 6 draft letter said, though without referring to Comcast and Time Warner by name.
Martin already supports the NFL Network. The letter, though addressed to Martin, is more likely aimed at other FCC officials whose support has not been locked up.
We have been contacted by several congressional offices that have been inundated with complaints about big cable companies not carrying NFL Network, said NFL spokesman Seth Palansky. We have provided those congressional offices with language with which to contact the FCC to urge for mandatory arbitration which could help get NFL Network wider distribution.
Comcast carries the NFL Network on a sports tier seen in about 1 million homes. Time Warner refuses to carry the network on expanded basic, claiming the 70-cent per month, per subscriber license fee is excessive. Time Warner has offered to carry the NFL Network on a sports tier or an a la carte basis, or on a pay per game basis, in which all of the revenue would go to the NFL.
The NFL Network has accused the cable giants of denying consumers access to most popular programming on cable TV.
A copy of the draft letter was obtained Monday by Multichannel News.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) last Wednesday sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow, urging compromise.
Kerry said he was concerned that millions of cable consumers would be unable to see on TV the New England Patriots (13-0) final regular season game on Dec. 29 against the New York Giants, because the NFL Network has exclusive television rights. No NFL team has gone undefeated for an entire regular season since the 1972 Miami Dolphins.
In light of the unique circumstances surrounding the 2007 New England Patriots, I urge you to reach an agreement as soon as possible, so that football fans across the country are not prevented from viewing what could be an historic sporting event, Kerry said in one-page letter.
In the draft letter, the NFL Network said forced arbitration would not be breaking new ground. It referred, for example, to the FCC's decision in 2006 to pressure Comcast to carry Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), a regional sports network and the pay-TV home of the Washington Nationals baseball team.
We note with interest that the [FCC] previously adopted a dispute resolution mechanism to address a similar stalemate between regional sports networks and vertically integrated MVPDs, and this approach benefited consumers right here in the Washington, D.C. market, the letter said.
But the letter failed to mention that Comcast paid for the MASN contract by immediately raising monthly cable rates by $2 for 1.6 million customers in the Washington-Baltimore corridor.
We urge the [FCC] to consider using this same approach to resolve disputes involving other types of independently owned programming where similar vertical integration may impede agreement, the draft letter said. This proposal would not pick winners or losers, but instead creates a mechanism to address a market failure that has prevented consumers from having access to popular programming including the NFL Network, about which our constituents have expressed much concern.http://www.multichannel.com/index.as...leID=CA6511245