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Frontier, TWC to Discuss Dodgers Net Thursday

U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro) received a taker in her quest to get California pay TV distributors to sit down and hash out a carriage deal for Time Warner Cable’s SportsNet LA regional sports network, with Frontier Communications, recent buyer of Verizon systems in the state, agreeing to meet with the cable operator May 5.

Frontier is the only distributor to accept Hahn’s invitation – last week her request to have DirecTV and TWC for a sit-down was declined by the satellite TV company’s parent AT&T.

There is no guarantee that any deal would be reached after the Frontier meeting, but it does show that at least one distributor is willing to open a channel of communications.

The Dodgers network has been available only on Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications (which is in the process of buying TWC) and a handful of smaller operators in the Los Angeles market since its launch in 2014. Distributors have balked at the high cost of the channel – about $4.90 per subscriber per month, according to SNL Kagan estimates – and have rejected several attempts by the cable operator to entice them to sign a deal.

Just prior to the major league baseball season opening last month, TWC had offered a one-year 30% discount for the channel, which distributors said was inadequate. Later, TWC offered a six-year pact that started with the 30% discount but included gradual price increases over the remainder of the deal. That too was rebuffed.

Some distributors have criticized TWC for playing up the fact that this year is the last that legendary broadcaster and voice of the Dodgers Vin Scully will provide play-by-play for games.

“Dodger fans are sick of this blackout and they want to know that all sides are actively working toward a solution,” Congresswoman Hahn said in a statement.  “I hope that other cable companies will follow their example and agree to meet. I am hopeful that this will be a productive meeting and that Dodger games will be back on fans’ TV sets soon.”

Frontier may have other motivations. According to reports, the transition in some former Verizon markets hasn’t gone as smoothly as planned. Frontier closed its purchase of former Fios systems in California, Texas and Florida in March for $10.5 billion. Frontier offers service in LA-area like Ventura and Santa Barbara.

The SportsNet LA dust-up is part of what appears to be a growing backlash from distributors regarding the high costs of sports channels. In the New York market, Comcast has been without the Yankees Entertainment & Sports (YES) Network since November for its 900,000 customers in parts of New Jersey and Connecticut.