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FCC Tackles Sports

A couple of decades ago, sports siphoning was a big issue. The possibility that baseball or football games would move to cable, and that free, over-the-air TV viewers would be shut out of the TV ballpark had politicians railing.

Since then, the move of sports to cable has been steady and inexorable anyway, and the politicians have been relatively silent, probably because most of them have cable. But a new sports issue has popped up that threatens to be an equally hot button.

In its decision to condition the Adelphia sale on program access protections for sports nets, the FCC declared regional sports networks "must have" programming, showing itself ready to intervene in carriage disputes to make sure that the home team games get to the home team's homes.

Add to that its lightning speed this week in reacting to an NFL Network complaint and telling Time Warner to restore that network to customers, and it is clear that media companies engage in protracted sports negotiations at the risk of angering the feds.

I'm not sure the government needs to be so proactive in private negotations, but from the noises out of Congress and the FCC, it looks like it plans to be.

So, when cable companies are required to add sports nets to basic cable packages, which then boost's their price to customers, be ready to remind Cable rate critic Senator John McCain that the government itself is responsible for some of that price increase.

By John Eggerton