Sports TV Loophole Closed


Shopping around for HD sports programming options in New York, you’re sure to find out you can’t get MSG-HD on Verizon’s FiOS TV. Why? It’s Jimmy’s channel and he wants it exclusively on Cablevision. Looking to add Comcast SportsNet HD to your DirecTV package in Philadelphia? No, sorry, not available.

How can they shortchange their viewing customers with this tactic? A 1992 law’s loophole. But not anymore as the FCC is looking to close it up quick, via WSJ

 The FCC’s Media Bureau will circulate an order Wednesday that would close the so-called terrestrial loophole used by companies including Comcast Corp., Cox Communications Inc. and Cablevision Systems Corp. to withhold local sports channels from rivals, an FCC official said.

If approved, the proposal would mean consumers could soon have more choice in pay-TV services. Sports fans who want to watch local baseball, hockey and other games at home wouldn’t be forced to subscribe to the largest local cable provider anymore.

In Philadelphia, for instance, fans of the Philadelphia Flyers, Phillies and Sixers can’t get games broadcast on Comcast’s SportsNet channel on DirecTV or Dish Network. In San Diego, subscribers to AT&T Inc.’s U-Verse television service can’t get San Diego Padres games, which are carried on a channel owned by Cox Communications.

The FCC’s move would be a victory for Dish Network Corp., DirecTV Group Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T, all of whom have had difficulties at one point or another trying to get programming—mostly regional sports channels—from a local cable provider.

"Consumers shouldn’t be forced to stick with their incumbent cable provider in order to have access to their local teams’ games, or to watch those games in high definition," a Verizon spokesman said in a statement.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the cable industry’s lobbying group, argued that exclusive distribution of channels "can be a pro-competitive tool."

"Exclusivity allows competing providers to invest in new services that have dramatically changed the marketplace, as can be witnessed by DirecTV’s overwhelming success with the NFL Sunday Ticket package," association spokesman Brian Dietz said.

The FCC requires cable operators to offer access to channels they partially or wholly own to rivals at reasonable rates, but some have used a loophole in a 1992 law to exclude local sports programming.

The loophole allows cable operators to withhold a channel from rivals if it is sent over a cable instead of beamed by satellite. Other pay-TV providers, including satellite TV and now phone companies, have complained to the FCC about the practice for years.

Last year, AT&T filed a complaint against Cox for denying it permission to air San Diego Padres games. Verizon filed a similar complaint against Cablevision for denying it access to a high-definition feed of games from Madison Square Garden.


IP-PRIME, the IPTV service scuttled by SES last year, had the same problem: they couldn’t get carriage rights to MSG-HD

With FiOS-TV moving in on Philly in a big way, we’ll finally get to see what competition will mean for us — the customers.

Too bad the FCC can’t do anything about the Rangers playing badly lately. Fire Sather?

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