ACA Members Push RSN Conditions for AT&T-DirecTV

WASHINGTON -- The American Cable Association is taking its call for regional sports network-related conditions on the AT&T/DirecTV deal directly to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

In a letter to Tom Wheeler Thursday (July 9), 27 ACA members said they were "extremely concerned that following the completion of the AT&T and DirecTV merger, the combined company will charge us higher carriage fees for its Root Sports regional sports networks (“RSNs”) than the two could charge remaining as separate entities."

They said they don't mind competing head to head with other distributors, but that they are "put in a bind when purchasing 'must have' RSN programming from direct rivals like DirecTV and AT&T." They also said that bind would factor into whether they would have sufficient capital to invest in broadband.

They said that without conditions. including baseball-style arbitration of carriage disputes and an improved version of the FCC's non-discriminatory access remedy, the deal should be rejected.

The ACA has staked out the RSN issue as a key one in the FCC's vetting. Earlier in the week it took aim at what it said appeared to be the FCC's plan not to apply any regional sports network conditions to the AT&T/DirecTV merger, which the FCC is widely expected to approve in the next week or so.

“ACA is deeply disappointed that the Federal Communications Commission appears headed toward approving AT&T’s merger with DirecTV without shielding consumers from being overcharged for three Root Sports regional sports networks (RSNs) owned by DirecTV and a fourth Roots Sports RSN currently co-owned by AT&T and DirecTV," said ACA President Matthew Polka in a statement Tuesday (July 7).

In the letter, the cable ops, all of whom said they purchase RSN's from DirecTV/AT&T, echoed that concern.

ACA is concerned that the deal will result in higher prices for rivals' access to DirecTV's four owned RSNs, which operate as Root Sports Northwest, Pittsburgh, Rocky Mountain and Southwest, a point it made in comments to the FCC last month.

Similar concerns were raised earlier this month by Houston cable provider enTouch Systems.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.