Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable should be banned from signing new local-sports-programming contracts if the cable giants are allowed to acquire Adelphia Communications Corp., a group of House lawmakers said in a recent letter to Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin.
The 19 House members, including Republicans and Democrats from rural districts, told Martin in a Feb. 21 letter that the FCC should condition the Adelphia deal on Comcast and Time Warner agreeing “not to enter into exclusive contracts for their local sports programming.”
As the lawmakers view it, cable exclusivity would mean that satellite subscribers would have to pay for cable to see “their favorite regional sports teams’ games.” In rural areas where cable is unavailable, satellite subscribers would have no access at all to their sports teams, they added.
“If [satellite] companies are barred from carrying regional sports programming, it effectively bars many rural fans from viewing their teams,” the House letter said.
Among those signing the letter were Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), Chris Cannon (R-Utah), Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Stephanie Herseth (D-S.D.).
In a prepared statement, Comcast spokesman Tim Fitzpatrick noted that while federal law requires cable companies to provide satellite with vast quantities of programming, the same law does not require direct-broadcast satellite provider DirecTV Inc. to offer cable access to “NFL Sunday Ticket,” a package of out-of-market National Football League games.
As a result, “millions of rural Americans who might want to see these games have no other choice. If there is a problem with rural access to sports, that’s it,” Fitzpatrick said.
The Federal Trade Commission approved the $17.6 billion Adelphia merger in January without conditions. The FCC’s review has lasted nine months.
The House letter reflected some of the Adelphia merger conditions sought by DirecTV and fellow DBS provider EchoStar Communications Corp.
Under federal cable law, cable-owned networks that are distributed via satellite must be sold to DirecTV and EchoStar. Comcast’s Philadelphia sports network is exempt because it is distributed terrestrially. Because Comcast makes the sports network available to other local terrestrial pay TV providers, it is unclear whether the House letter’s call for a ban on local sports "exclusive contracts" would actually address the lawmakers' concerns.