Google: TWC Is 'Withholding' Metro Sports RSN in Kansas City

Google claimed that Time Warner Cable has “backtracked from any willingness” to license its Metro Sports regional sports network in Kansas City for Google’s IPTV service, and the Internet giant argued that the MSO’s actions underscore the need for the FCC to strengthen program-access rules for operator-affiliated RSNs.

Google accused TWC -- the largest cable TV operator in the Kansas City area -- of “leveraging its control over a local RSN to impede Google Fiber’s entry into the marketplace” in reply comments filed Monday in the Federal Communications Commission’s proceeding on program-access rules.

“The incumbent cable operator in Kansas City, Time Warner Cable (‘TWC’), is withholding its RSN, causing Google Fiber users to not have access to it,” Google said.

Asked for a response, Time Warner Cable reps referred to the MSO's statement on the issue last fall. In September, after a previous complaint by Google, the cable company said, “TWC has absolutely offered, and continues to offer, what the FCC describes as Metro Sports’ ‘must-have’ live regional sports programming -- men's and women's Division I basketball -- at fair and reasonable prices. As for the remaining programming on Metro Sports, we have long invested in local programming, and [Google is] welcome to do the same.”

Initially the cable operator “signaled a willingness to contract with Google Fiber for access to the Metro Sports network,” according to Google. “Ultimately, however, after delaying negotiations for months, TWC backtracked from any willingness to license its Metro Sports channel to Google Fiber.”

Google said that by contrast, it had successfully negotiated a license agreement with Fox Networks for its regional sports programming, including the Fox Sports Kansas City RSN.

“Because Google Fiber’s experience confirms the Commission’s understanding of lingering market conditions, Google Fiber supports the Commission’s proposals to strengthen the program access rules pertaining to RSNs,” the company said in the FCC filing.

In October 2012, the FCC voted to sunset the ban on exclusive contracts between pay TV providers and co-owned programming networks. Program access complaints will now be handled under the existing prohibition on unfair practices.

The FCC said in the order that “the potential for anticompetitive conduct resulting from vertical integration between cable operators and programmers remains a concern,” particularly with respect to RSNs, Google noted. Its comments are available here:

Programming on Metro Sports includes regional NCAA Division I college football and basketball games, as well as local high school football and basketball games and coaches shows. The RSN is available on TWC, Comcast and Knology of Kansas (formerly Sunflower Broadband) systems.

The Internet company began connecting customers to the fiber-to-the-home service, which promises connection speeds up to 1 Gigabit per second, in Kansas City, Kan., last November.

The Google Fiber service is $70 per month for broadband only with a one-year contract and $120 per month as part of a broadband/TV bundle with a two-year contract. The company also is offering 5 Mbps Internet service for free, for at least seven years, if customers pay a one-time $300 installation fee.

In the Kansas City market, Time Warner Cable recently boosted download speeds for all broadband tiers, including Basic Internet (which increased from 3 to 10 Mbps), Turbo Pass Internet (from 15 to 20 Mbps) and Extreme Internet (from 30 to 50 Mbps).

Still, TWC executives have downplayed the threat posed by the Google Fiber project. The MSO claims it has an overlap of about 100,000 broadband and 100,000 TV customers in the Google Fiber footprint.