Washington – Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) is opposing the possible adoption of rules by the Federal Communications Commission that would likely give the NFL Network a leg up in negotiations with cable TV operators Comcast and Time Warner Cable.
“The only possible outcome would be higher costs to consumers,” Specter said in a letter to FCC chairman Kevin Martin, who is supporting the NFL Network in a dispute between the sports networks and major cable operators.
Martin is endorsing rules that would, in effect, supply the NFL Network with some regulatory Gatorade. The FCC could vote on the plan at its Nov. 27 meeting, if not sooner.
Martin’s plan would allow the NFL Network to invoke compulsory arbitration that would likely end up with the programmer reaching far more cable subscribers and receiving far higher license fees than it could from private talks with the cable MSOs.
Martin is reportedly in favor of baseball-style arbitration, which means the arbitrator would pick between the final and best offers tendered by both sides.
In his letter, Specter said the NFL Network did not need any help from the FCC.
“The National Football League (NFL), owner of the NFL Network, wields tremendous power. Indeed, I am hard-pressed to think of a commercial enterprise that similarly dominates the market that it serves; and its power continues to grow,” Specter said.
Specter is a resident of Philadelphia, where both Comcast and the NFL’1s Philadelphia Eagles are based.
The NFL Network has been waging a negative public relations campaign against cable because Comcast offers the network on a sports tier seen by a minority of customers and because Time Warner won’t carry it at all. The cable operators claim the channel is too expensive to justify broad distribution.
The NFL Network, which has exclusive rights to eight NFL games in 2007, is claiming discrimination because the NFL is the most popular sport in the country but can’t get the same level of distribution as sports channels owned by Comcast.
Specter’s letter indicated that the NFL had to clout to hold its own with the cable industry, noting that the NFL licensed its “Sunday Ticket” package to DirecTV for $700 but refused to let cable participate in the deal.
“The proposition that an enterprise with such vast market power needs the government to intervene on its behalf in business negotiations is simply untenable,” Specter said.
Specter also suggested that Martin’s intervention on behalf of the NFL Network would be inconsistent with Martin’s ongoing concerns about the upward spiral of cable rates.
“Your approach simply is not a recipe for lower cable prices or better programming or access,” Specter said. “I hope you agree that the marketplace is the better venue for resolving these disputes.”