Cable wars hurting sports fans

Posted Nov. 12, 2008, at 8:11 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 3:28 a.m.

The Jets-Patriots rivalry gets more intriguing each year. This week, the rivalry has taken a new twist with first-place in the AFC East at stake and Brett Favre leading the Jets while Matt Cassel has taken over for injured Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Favre has helped spark a Jets resurgence, and Cassel has led the Patriots into position for their sixth consecutive AFC East title. NFL Network is excited that our next game telecast this Thursday features the Jets at the Patriots.

Unfortunately, Patriots fans who subscribe to Time Warner will be left on the sidelines for this game. Time Warner refuses to negotiate a deal to put NFL Network on its systems.

It is clear that several big cable companies continue to ignore football fans, blocking or charging extra for our most popular programming on TV. We in the NFL have been trying without success for months to negotiate with these companies for broader coverage.

The good news is that our nation’s regulators are paying attention and keeping the fans in mind. Just last month, the Federal Communications Commission Media Bureau found that Comcast did discriminate against independent networks like NFL Network. The FCC Media Bureau found Time Warner guilty of the same type of anti-competitive behavior in a similar sports case. It is once again a reminder that these cable companies need to negotiate fairly, not discriminate.

Large cable companies discriminate against networks like NFL Network because we are independent. Have you ever wondered why you get the Golf Channel but not NFL Network? The Golf Channel is owned by Comcast, which makes the channel broadly available. Networks like NFL Network, Wealth TV and a group of other sports and specialty programming options are not owned by the cable giants. Instead of negotiating with independent programmers, the cable giants discriminate against them in favor of their own.

Meanwhile, cable rates continue to go up. In the last decade, cable rates have increased significantly even though you are blocked from independent programming you really want.

The recent FCC Media Bureau rulings that Comcast and Time Warner Cable discriminated against NFL Network and other independent networks should be a big step forward for consumers and NFL fans. The FCC ordered the case for additional proceedings. But the cable companies continue to drag their feet and are now trying to delay the proceedings, virtually guaranteeing that yet another NFL season will pass before fans get TV they really want, like Thursday night’s Jets-Patriots battle for first place.

You can take a stand. Contact your elected officials today. Tell them cable should stop the discrimination and give you NFL Network.

Steven M. Bornstein is president and CEO of the NFL Network.

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