DirecTV, DISH Formally Ask for Access to Comcast RSN

DirecTV and DISH have requested access to Comcast's
terrestrially-delivered regional sports network in Philadelphia.

"We have formally requested the programming," said
DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer. He had no comment on whether DirecTV would
file a complaint with the FCC if Comcast did not make Comcast SportsNet
Philadelphia available.

"[We] received their request and will review in due
course and respond accordingly," said Comcast spokesman Tim Fitzpatrick.
He would not elaborate, but he confirmed that DISH has also
"recently" requested access to the channel in Philadelphia. A DISH
spokesperson was not available for comment at press time. 

The requests follow the FCC's notice that the
complaint-process portion of its January decision to close the so-called
terrestrial exemption had been approved, thus clearing the way for complaints.

The FCC in January changed its rules to say that
distributors who did not make their co-owned terrestrially delivered nets
available to competitors on reasonable terms and conditions would be presumptively
in violation of its program-access rules. Before that the FCC had exempted
terrestrial nets, in most cases regional sports nets (RSNs), because of
language in the statute that specified the access rules applied to
satellite-delivered networks.

In advance of the Office of Management and Budget's approval
of the complaints process based on the Paperwork Reduction Act, Cox agreed to
start negotiating with AT&T and others in San Diego over access to Padres
games. AT&Talso made its own formal request for MSG Nets HD programming in Connecticut,
giving MSG and parent company Cablevision 10 days to begin negotiating before
it would ask the FCC to make them.

"MSG complies with federal regulations," said an
MSG spokesman. "We are pleased to have AT&T as a customer and to
provide U-Verse subscribers in Connecticut with access to every single game on
MSG and MSG Plus."

MSG does provide the standard-definition versions; however,
the spokesman would not elaborate on whether the network planned to make the HD
versions available. Part of the FCC's decision was that operators could not
satisfy the access requirement by making standard-definition feeds available,
but not HD feeds.

Cablevision has challenged the FCC's program-access rules in
court. Comcast has not and told legislators at a Hill hearing on the Comcast-NBC
Universal deal that it has no plans to do so.

In written answers to Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) on the issue
of access to affiliated nets, ComcastChairman Brian Roberts said that it was ready to make Comcast SportsNetPhiladelphia available to DirecTV as soon as the satellite operator made
its exclusive Sunday Ticket package avaiable to Comcast and others.

Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia is already available to
competing cable operators. RCN has carried the net since its launch in 1997,
says Fitzpatrick, and Verizon's FiOS since that service launched in

But it has not made it available to satellite operators, which,
the company points out, have exclusive programming like Sunday Ticket (access
to all NFL Sunday games in once package) that help differentiate the service.

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.