AT&T Balks at Hoop Surcharge


AT&T Broadband's Atlanta system, already preparing to pass on a price hike to its subscriber base in January, is refusing to pay Fox Sports Net South a surcharge for additional local college basketball games.

The parties have reached an impasse over 32 games the regional sports network acquired as part of Fox Sports Net's national Atlantic Coast Conference television deal. Also included in the package are 11 contests featuring local colleges Georgia Tech and Georgia University.

Fox Sports offered the games to AT&T for an undisclosed surcharge, but the system refused.

Fox Sports Net South director of public relations Jamie Kimbrough said that negotiations have broken off between the two companies.

AT&T spokesman Reg Griffin said the company will still carry 23 Southeastern Conference and ACC college basketball games from Fox Sports South, including several Georgia Tech and Georgia games.

"The additional games carried a significant programming fee and we didn't feel that it was appropriate," Griffin said.

AT&T's decision not to absorb the charges precedes a scheduled 5.5 percent price increase that it will pass on to its 580,000 subscribers, beginning in January, as part of an MSO-wide price hike.

Griffin said rising programming costs — especially a 20-percent annual uptick for sports fare — contributed to the rate increase.

But Kimbrough said other MSOs in the area have agreed to carry the games without increasing their product cost to the consumer.

"We feel that the additional fee is commensurate with the package," Kimbrough said.

Fox has ratcheted up pressure on AT&T by running an ad featuring its college basketball schedule with an asterisk next to the games the MSO is not carrying. The ad — found in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
— encourages subscribers to call a 1-800 number that eventually connects to AT&T customer service representatives.

The network also has begun offering AT&T subscribers viewing parties for the blacked-out games at the Three Dollar Café restaurant in Buckhead, Ga.

Kimbrough said the Dec. 2 Georgia Tech/North Carolina game drew "a couple of hundred" viewers to the restaurant, and a similar turnout was expected for the Dec. 9 Georgia-Georgia Tech game.

Griffin admitted that the system has received calls from subscribers inquiring about the games, but said AT&T has no plans to change its position on the matter.