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Members of Senate & House Urge FCC to End Big Cable Stalemate

Fourteen more members of the House of Representatives (all Democrats except one) have asked FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to consider adopting a "dispute-resolution mechanism" for ending the "stalemate" between Comcast and Time Warner and the NFL over carriage of the NFL Network.

 In a letter to the chairman, they complain that "vertically integrated multichannel video program distributors (MVPDs) are refusing to carry the NFL Network and other popular independently owned programming on a broadly distributed tier of service."

 Comcast has said there is no carriage dispute, pointing out that it carries the channel on its sports tier so that it won't have to charge all its customers for a channel they don't all want.

 In some sense, the legislators are preaching to the choir with the Martin letter, since the chairman has indicated he is interested in some form of arbitration for programming disputes, citing the market power of cable programmers and the "must-have" status of sports programming.

 The letter points out that there have also been individual calls from Republicans and Democrats, including Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) and Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), for some dispute resolution mechanism.

 The issue has gained attention with the New England Patriots' march to a possible undefeated regular season, with its final game of that season (with the Giants) on The NFL Network, which Comcast carries on a sports tier and Time Warner does not carry at all, though it has proposed a VOD offering of just the network's package of eight, live NFL games.