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Kerry: Retrans Impasse Must Not Interrupt Football

There is nothing like constituents threatened with the loss of college football to get the attention of Congress.

Communications Subcommittee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) took a break
from the ongoing healthcare battle to write the heads of News Corp. and
Time Warner Cable calling on them to resolve their carriage dispute
before the first of the year, when the college bowl games begin in
earnest. "Private industry negotiations cannot disrupt a fundamental
American tradition," he said flatly.

""Fox and Time Warner need
to strike a deal - millions of football fans are depending on it," said
Kerry in announcing the letter to News Corp. President Chase Carey and
Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt "Having screens go dark because two
parties couldn't come together in time is no solution. New Year's Day
and football are synonymous in households across the nation. Private
industry negotiations cannot disrupt a fundamental American tradition." 

months, Fox has been negotiating in good faith with Time Warner Cable,
" said Fox in a statement. "Our position in these negotiations is
entirely reasonable -- we are simply asking for fair compensation for
the impressive value our Fox programming offers. We will continue to
actively negotiate with Time Warner Cable in hopes of reaching a fair

"Senator Kerry is right to blow the
whistle on the spat between Fox and Time Warner," said Free Press
Policy Director Ben Scott in response to the letter. "Too often,
content and cable companies feud over who gets the biggest slice of an
enormous profit pie without any regard for consumers. After years of
unrelenting rate hikes, consumers shouldn't have to cope with suddenly
losing TV service of local sports programming on New Year's Day because
two corporate boardrooms decided to butt heads. These shenanigans
expose serious hypocrisy in the industry. "

Full text of the letter is below:

Dear Sirs:

am aware that FOX and Time Warner Cable have been involved for some
time in negotiations regarding the terms of carriage for FOX-owned
broadcast television stations, as well as FOX-owned cable channels. These
are private negotiations, and I hope that the parties reach a mutually
acceptable resolution before the existing agreement expires on December
31. If you fail to do so, I suggest that FOX allow Time Warner Cable to
continue transmitting programming through the College Bowl season
either under current terms and conditions or under terms and conditions
that will be retroactively applied once an agreement is reached, or
under some third option. I also suggest that both parties strongly
consider entering arbitration rather than having consumers lose access
to programming. If I understand correctly, at midnight on
December 31, 2009, FOX content may be removed from cable systems Time
Warner Cable owns. This means that, in January, millions of Time Warner
Cable customers around the country could lose access to the Sugar Bowl,
Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Orange Bowl, as well as NFL playoff games.
Prior to the digital transition, many consumers were able to put up
rabbit ear antennas to receive programming. However, digital receivers
are more expensive and complex to use. We do not want consumers waking
up on the first day of the New Year wanting to watch football and
instead finding that they have to take a trip to the electronics store
to purchase a digital receiver in the hope that they receive a clear
over the air signal.

As the Chairman of the Senate Commerce
Subcommittee on Communication, Technology, and the Internet, I have
sought to place the interests of consumers at the center of our work.
If both parties conclude that the best alternative to a negotiated
agreement is to have screens go dark for consumers, then they will have
neglected the core interests of the millions of households that
subscribe to Time Warner Cable in affected markets. As leaders of major
companies that are FCC licensees and are obligated to serve the public
interest, I hope and expect that you will resolve this matter
consistent with those obligations.