Mayors Take MASN’s Side in Time Warner Carriage Dispute

The mayors of Raleigh and Durham, N.C., sent the identical letter to Time Warner Cable asking it to carry Mid-Atlantic Sports Network on its basic tier.

The letters, released by MASN Tuesday, were sent one month apart -- July and August -- but identically point to the importance to their constituents of MASN ‘s NCAA football coverage -- including North Carolina, Duke, N.C. State, Wake Forest and others -- as well as the network’s Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals Major League Baseball coverage.

MASN spokesman Todd Webster would not comment on who had written the letter, but a staffer in the office of Mayor Charles Meeker of Raleigh, who sent the July version, said they frequently vet and then sign letters submitted from industry.

Time Warner and MASN are currently in arbitration over the carriage dispute. The operator is willing to talk about putting the network on a sports tier, but it won’t put it on basic because, according to a Time Warner executive, “the programming is of little or no interest to our customers in North Carolina.”

Cable operators have been caught between a regulatory rock and a hard place. Operators have been under pressure from the Federal Communications Commission and legislators not to deny must-have programming, like college and pro sports, to fans used to getting it over the air or on basic cable. But at the same time, regulators and legislators have complained about soaring cable prices, which cable operators point out are linked to programming costs.

“Their programming is of little interest to our customers in North Carolina,” said the executive, explaining the company’s position that it will not put the network on the basic tier.

Webster countered that some 200 people have complained to the attorney general about Time Warner’s “refusal” to carry MASN. The Time Warner executive said they “did not doubt any elected official,” but wondered how many of those letters were from Time Warner customers.

MASN, which even has a Web site devoted to lobbying for carriage, also sent along a link from the managers of the Durham Bulls and Carolina Mudcats minor-league-baseball teams calling for basic carriage.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.