Fox: It’s NCTC’s Fault

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Fox Cable Networks has told the Federal Communications Commission that it hasn’t “stonewalled” the National Cable Television Cooperative in negotiations for carriage of 13 regional sports networks.

Fox’s letter to FCC chairman Kevin Martin denies allegations made by the co-op in its July 25 missive to the regulator. The NCTC claimed it had reached an impasse as it seeks to negotiate a master carriage agreement for Fox sports channels, because the programmer won’t waive confidentiality provisions in existing deals with co-op members. Therefore, the co-op can’t see what some of its members are already paying for the regionals, the NCTC said in its letter.

But according to Lindsay Gardner, Fox Cable’s president of affiliate sales and marketing: “Contrary to the NCTC’s assertion, responsibility for the delay in those negotiations lies with NCTC — which has failed for over a year to respond to two questions posed by News Corp. that are important prerequisites to further discussions. Having declined to engage on the issue for months, NCTC now curiously seeks regulatory intervention.”

The NCTC claimed Fox Cable, part of News Corp., was reneging on conditions set as part of Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of a stake in DirecTV Group Inc. in 2004. Under those strictures, small cable system can designate “bargaining agents” to negotiate their carriage deals.

In his letter to Martin, Gardner claims that the NCTC has refused to identify which of its members have appointed the co-op as its bargaining agent.

“Without confirmation that NCTC indeed acts as the bargaining agent for at least a single cable operator, News Corp. would have no basis to proceed whatsoever,” Gardner wrote.

Fox Cable said it also asked the NCTC whether it believed “that its collective bargaining for RSN [regional sports network] programming would be covered by the antitrust clearance it received from the Department of Justice in 2003.”

The programmer contends that the NCTC’s DOJ clearance was predicated on national, not regional, networks. “More than a year has passed since News Corp. posed these two questions,” Gardner wrote.

The NCTC plans to respond and looks “forward to having these issues discussed fully with the commission,” a co-op spokesman said.

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