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Fox Still Off, D.C. Still Fired Up

Fox and Cablevision broke off talks Saturday night just prior to the first game of the National League Championship Series between Philadelphia and San Francisco, leaving the game off the air in New York and Philadelphia.

Fox spokesman Scott Grogin said the talks were done for the night, but would resume Sunday, when Fox is scheduled to air an NFL game featuring the New York Giants. "We had several discussions today, but not material progress, and we are really far apart," he said.

"It is shameful for News Corp. to use Major League Baseball and NFL games to hold viewers hostage in order to extract tens of millions from Cablevision customers," said Cablevision EVP Charles Schueler.

While the talks broke off, a network neutrality angle on the retransmission consent fight heated up.

Reports that Fox was blocking Cablevision subs' access to its programming on Fox Web sites and Hulu drew immediate and strong criticism from network neutrality fans, including Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)

A source familiar with Fox's move confirmed that for several hours it was not allowing Cablevision subs access to programming, but that they have been reinstated. The idea behind cutting them off was that if subs could watch Fox programming the next day online--though that does not include the baseball game or Giants football game--there would be no motivation for Cablevision to negotiate.

The subs were reinstated, said the source, because some Cablevision broadband customers are not video subs and Fox did not want to punish them.

Markey's call for FCC intervention into the dispute was linked in part to that move by Fox, but a number of groups immediately weighed in as well.

Free Press Research Director S. Derek Turner called it a "very disturbing, anti-consumer move by Fox...This discrimination against Cablevision high-speed Internet customers is particularly egregious because all other online viewers who do not purchase any cable television service currently have unfettered access to Hulu and content."

"Fox has said it is not allowing customers of Cablevision's Internet access service to connect to Fox Web sites or to Fox content on," echoed Public Knowledge. "It's bad enough that millions of consumers in New York and Philadelphia are being deprived of programming distributed by cable. Blocking Web sites, however, is totally out of bounds in a dispute like this."