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Comcast, MASN Ink Carriage Deal

Comcast video subscribers in the nation's capital and surrounding environs will finally get a chance to view Washington Nationals Major League Baseball games next month on regional sports network Mid-Atlantic Sports Network.

The parties reached an agreement Aug. 4 that will bring MASN to some 1.6 million people in the metro Washington, D.C., and Baltimore areas on expanded basis. As part of the pact, MASN and Comcast also agreed to drop various legal complaints against each other. Deal terms were not disclosed, but other MASN carriers are said to be paying an estimated $1.35 per subscriber, per month.

The agreement also applies to subscribers in Salisbury, Md., while some 600,000 subscribers in Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina will receive the network in 2007 and 2008, according to Comcast officials.

Although the contract language talks about Comcast airing MASN Sept. 1, the company must legally give its customers 30 days’ notice about the impending programming-lineup change -- a requirement that could push the RSN’s debut to around Labor Day.

The agreement was prompted by the Federal Communications Commission's July 21 order outlining the approval of Comcast’s and Time Warner’s acquisition of Adelphia Communications, under which the agency said MASN would have to decide by Aug. 4 whether to use an arbiter or avail itself of an FCC administrative law judge to end the stalemate.

Comcast, MASN and Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who is also MASN's majority owner, have been odds for well over one year, with rancor and lawsuits spilling into the FCC, Congress and area courts.

MLB awarded Angelos the club's TV rights as part of the deal that converted the Montreal Expos into the Nationals before the 2005 season as compensation for the encroachment on a market area that had been previously the sole province of the Orioles.

The dispute was heightened by the fact that Comcast SportsNet carries Orioles games, but the club's 10-year contract with that RSN ends after this season. Beginning with the 2007 campaign, MASN will hold rights to both teams' games, with a spillover channel designed to accommodate conflicting contests, according to MASN spokesman Todd Webster.

"Comcast is pleased that we have finally been able to negotiate an agreement with MASN that will result in the imminent airing of Washington Nationals games. We have always supported the return of baseball to Washington and have wanted to carry the Nationals games for our customers as quickly as possible," Comcast executive vice president David Cohen said in a prepared statement.

"We appreciate MASN's willingness [last] week to engage in discussions that enabled us to reach this compromise agreement and want to express our thanks to MASN and Peter Angelos for working together with the Comcast team to resolve our differences and work in the best interests of our customers, the Nationals' fans and the team," he added.

Webster said that at press time, MASN was continuing to negotiate a carriage deal to fill in the Time Warner Cable hole in its distribution coverage area.