Cable Rivals Target Sports Nets


Washington — Cable rivals are going
after sports programming they’ve been denied
until now.

DirecTV and Dish Network want to carry
Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, and formally
asked the cable provider last week to make it
available. Comcast had been able to withhold
that regional sports network from satellite-TV
providers under an exemption in the FCC’s
program-access rules governing programming
affiliated with cable companies — an exemption
that effectively expired last week.

Comcast also wants FCC approval of a
deal to control NBC Universal, which could
make it more inclined to consider the satellite
firms’ request.

“[We] received their request and will review
in due course and respond accordingly,”
Comcast spokesman Tim Fitzpatrick said,
without elaborating.

Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia televises
Philadelphia Phillies Major League Baseball
games, Flyers National Hockey League contests
and 76ers National Basketball Association
affairs. Comcast, through its Spectacor
unit, owns the Sixers and Flyers.

Ahead of the program-access exemption’s
expiration, Cox agreed to negotiate with
AT&T U-verse and other providers in San Diego
for Cox’s presentation of San Diego Padres
baseball games.

AT&T and Verizon Communications also
made a request to obtain MSG Networks’
high-definition programming for their subscribers
in the New York City area.

AT&T said it would give MSG 10 days to begin
negotiating before it would ask the FCC
to compel the programmer to comply.

“MSG complies with federal regulations,” an
MSG spokesman said. “We are pleased to have
AT&T as a customer and to provide U-verse
subscribers in Connecticut with access to every
single game on MSG and MSG Plus.”

MSG has thus far refused to make the
HD versions of those channels — showing
various New York pro teams — available to
U-verse and FiOS.

Verizon filed an access complaint at the
FCC in July 2009 over MSG’s HD feeds, and
has followed up with another request for
MSG HD programming, the company said.

“After the new rules went into effect,
Verizon again requested access to the HD
feeds consistent with the FCC’s order, but
MSG has again declined and still refused to
offer access on any terms,” spokesman David
Fish said. “We are considering our options.”

The FCC has said operators could not satisfy
the access requirement by making standard-
definition (and not HD) feeds available.

Former MSG parent Cablevision Systems
has challenged the FCC’s program-access
rules in court. Comcast hasn’t, and has told
legislators at hearings on the NBCU deal that
it has no plans to do so.

Comcast said in written answers to Sen. Al
Franken (D.-Minn.) on the issue of access to
affiliated networks that it was ready to make
CSN Philadelphia available to DirecTV as
soon as the satellite operator made its exclusive
“NFL Sunday Ticket” pay package of outof-
market National Football League games
available to Comcast and others.

CSN Philadelphia is already available to
competing cable operators and to FiOS TV,
but Comcast has not made it available to satellite
operators, over objections to Sunday
Ticket access.