enTouch Seeks FCC Help With RSN Pricing

enTouch Systems, which provides cable service in Houston, said AT&T and DirecTV, which jointly own regional sports network (RSN) Roots Sports Southwest, are asking too much for the channel, particularly given that it was bought from Comcast out of bankruptcy.

In a letter to the FCC, enTouch president J Lyn Findley, said the "exorbitant" pricing is a way for the two companies to benefit by siphoning customers to U-Verse and DirecTV. He noted that enTouch has been successful in grabbing some of their customers and pricing the RSN above market was a way to effectively withhold it from enTouch in a move to bring some of those subscribers back.

EnTouch noted that neither AT&T U-Verse nor DirecTV carried the channel when it was owned by Comcast.

The company said its current contract to carry Root Sports Southwest, which airs Houston Astros Major league Baseball games and Houston Rockets National Basketball Association games, is up in September, and despite its best efforts, they can't agree on the "excessive" price.

Root Sports Southwest has said it can't lower the rates because of an MFN clause in its contract that dates from when it was owned by Comcast; the MFN allowed for artificially high rates, it noted.

Findley said enTouch had not filed a program-access complaint because it did not think it could get relief given "flaws in the process."

enTouch said it fears a combined AT&T-DirecTV would charge even more for the RSN. The cable provider wants a non-discriminatory access condition on the deal, and one that allow enTouch, or a similarly situated company, to enter into agreements with third-party programmers.

The American Cable Association, which represents smaller MVPDs, added its support for enTouch.

“To remain competitive, enTouch Systems requires access to Root Sports Southwest on fair-market terms," said ACA president Matt Polka. "But the network owned by AT&T and DirecTV is insisting on the payment of fees that are unreasonably and unnecessarily high. EnTouch, a first-to-market 1-Gigabit broadband service provider with about 26,000 customers, competes head-to-head with AT&T and DirecTV in Houston, a market reality that gives AT&T and DirecTV an incentive to demand exorbitant and anti-competitive fees from enTouch."

DirecTV declined comment.

On Tuesday, ZGS Communications asked the FCC to resolve its carriage dispute with the companies as a prerequisite for approving the deal.

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.