There is nothing like constituents threatenend with the loss of college football to get the attention of Congress.
Senator Communications Subcommittee chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) took a break from the ongoing healthcare battle to write the heads of News Corp. and Time Warner Cable calling on them to resolve their carriage dispute before the first of the year, when the college bowl games begin in earnest.
"Private industry negotiations cannot disrupt a fundamental American tradition," he said flatly.
""Fox and Time Warner need to strike a deal - millions of football fans are depending on it," said Kerry in announcing the letter to News Corp. president Chase Carey and Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt
"Having screens go dark because two parties couldn't come together in time is no solution. New Year's Day and football are synonymous in households across the nation. Private industry negotiations cannot disrupt a fundamental American tradition."
Fox issued the following reply, saying it continues to negotiate with the No. 2 cable operator.
"For months, Fox has been negotiating in good faith with Time Warner Cable, " said Fox in a statement. "Our position in these negotiations is entirely reasonable -- we are simply asking for fair compensation for the impressive value our Fox programming offers. We will continue to actively negotiate with Time Warner Cable in hopes of reaching a fair agreement."
Noted Free Press policy director Ben Scott: "Senator Kerry is right to blow the whistle on the spat between Fox and Time Warner. Too often, content and cable companies feud over who gets the biggest slice of an enormous profit pie without any regard for consumers. After years of unrelenting rate hikes, consumers shouldn't have to cope with suddenly losing TV service of local sports programming on New Year's Day because two corporate boardrooms decided to butt heads. These shenanigans expose serious hypocrisy in the industry. "
The full text of Kerry's letter is listed below:
Dear Sirs:I am aware that FOX and Time Warner Cable have been involved for some time in negotiations regarding the terms of carriage for FOX-owned broadcast television stations, as well as FOX-owned cable channels.
These are private negotiations, and I hope that the parties reach a mutually acceptable resolution before the existing agreement expires on December 31. If you fail to do so, I suggest that FOX allow Time Warner Cable to continue transmitting programming through the College Bowl season either under current terms and conditions or under terms and conditions that will be retroactively applied once an agreement is reached, or under some third option. I also suggest that both parties strongly consider entering arbitration rather than having consumers lose access to programming.
If I understand correctly, at midnight on December 31, 2009, FOX content may be removed from cable systems Time Warner Cable owns. This means that, in January, millions of Time Warner Cable customers around the country could lose access to the Sugar Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Orange Bowl, as well as NFL playoff games. Prior to the digital transition, many consumers were able to put up rabbit ear antennas to receive programming. However, digital receivers are more expensive and complex to use. We do not want consumers waking up on the first day of the New Year wanting to watch football and instead finding that they have to take a trip to the electronics store to purchase a digital receiver in the hope that they receive a clear over the air signal.
As the Chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communication, Technology, and the Internet, I have sought to place the interests of consumers at the center of our work. If both parties conclude that the best alternative to a negotiated agreement is to have screens go dark for consumers, then they will have neglected the core interests of the millions of households that subscribe to Time Warner Cable in affected markets. As leaders of major companies that are FCC licensees and are obligated to serve the public interest, I hope and expect that you will resolve this matter consistent with those obligations.