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Martin: FCC to Probe MLB-DirecTV Deal

The Federal Communications Commission is planning to investigate an unsigned but controversial programming deal between DirecTV and Major League Baseball for the distribution of out-of-market games as a premium service unavailable to DirecTV competitors, FCC chairman Kevin Martin said in an undated letter to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).

“I am concerned whenever consumers cannot purchase the programming they want or are forced to purchase programming they don’t want.” Martin said, adding that he is seeking information from both DirecTV and MLB. “Once we have this information, we will report to you on the deal’s implications for consumers and any recommended changes to the law to ameliorate any harms to consumers.”

MLB and DirecTV have not announced a deal, but the agreement would reportedly deny cable and direct-broadcast satellite rival EchoStar Communications’ Dish Network subscribers access to the out-of-market MLB Extra Innings package in an exclusive arrangement that provoked a strong response from Kerry, who began speaking out several weeks ago. Kerry released Martin’s letter with his own statement Thursday night.

“This is great news, and I appreciate the quick response from chairman Martin,” Kerry said. “It’s good to know that he also has concerns about a deal that has the potential to deny choice to so many consumers -- all apparently in the interest of a short-term profit for Major League Baseball.”

The pending deal would not alter the local distribution of baseball games. But it would, for example, require a Red Sox fan in Texas to sign up with DirecTV to continue viewing Red Sox games on Extra Innings that were previously viewed on cable or Dish.

Martin said in his letter that the Extra Innings package “includes dozens of out-of-market MLB games each week” and “has been available to 75 million [pay TV] subscribers for the last several years and would no longer be available to all [pay TV] subscribers if DirecTV obtained rights from MLB.”

Kerry didn’t indicate whether MLB and DirecTV had a deadline to respond to the FCC.

“I look forward to hearing a full response from the league and from DirecTV, and I remain open to working with them and other colleagues on any and all plans that further options for consumers and make it easier for all of us to enjoy our national pastime,” he added.