Specter Targeting MSOs, SportsNet

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An annoyed Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) promised Wednesday to stage a public
hearing in Philadelphia to highlight his general concerns about the cable
industry and about Comcast Corp.'s treatment of local and national
competitors.

At a Senate Antitrust Subcommittee hearing on cable competition, Specter
complained about cable prices and service quality and raised questions about
whether Comcast was playing fair by withholding sports programming from
satellite competitors and by offering seemingly tough contract terms to wireline
competitor RCN Corp.

According to Specter, Comcast and RCN resolved their differences in a meeting
held in his office March 23. But Specter said he should not be forced to mediate
disputes between rivals and he wouldn't have to if cable faced genuine
competition.

'I'm wondering why that commitment had to come in a meeting in a senator's
office -- why that commitment couldn't come between the parties,' he said.

Specter, a Time Warner Cable subscriber, said he is concerned about his cable
rates and about the MSO's lax attitude toward its customers.

'I have a constituent who can never get the cable company on the telephone,
and she is a very important constituent because when I come home, that's all I
hear about,' he said.

Specter also voiced distress that Time Warner, Comcast and AT&T Broadband
failed to provide witnesses for the hearing. Cable sent two witnesses: National
Cable Television Association president Robert Sachs and Charter Communications
Inc. president and CEO Jerry Kent.

If the major cable operators snub his Philadelphia hearing, Specter indicated
that he was ready to issue subpoenas.

'I am very concerned . that a number of invitees have not responded -- Time
Warner, Comcast, AT&T,' Specter said. 'There are ways to assure attendance
other than by invitation, which I think has to be considered by this
subcommittee.'

Comcast -- owner of Comcast SportsNet, a regional network that telecasts
Philadelphia's professional hockey, basketball, and baseball games -- refuses to
sell the network to DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp.

Comcast may withhold the network from competitors under federal
program-access rules, which exempt terrestrially delivered networks like Comcast
SportsNet. The Federal Communications Commission has rejected complaints against
Comcast filed by the two direct-broadcast satellite operators.

Comcast sells Comcast SportsNet to RCN, but RCN has complained about being
offered only short-term contracts.

Specter said he was also troubled by RCN's move to abandon the Philadelphia
urban market after trying to obtain a city franchise for two years and by the
National Football League's decision to sign an exclusive deal with DirecTV for a
package of Sunday games.

'I believe the NFL owes America a little something by virtue of having had an
antitrust exemption,' he said.

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