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NCTC Keeps Up Fox RSN Fight

In a new letter to federal regulators, the National Cable Television Cooperative fired another salvo at Fox Cable Networks, all part of their dispute over negotiations of potential carriage deals for 13 regional sports networks.

In a missive sent last Wednesday to Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin, the NCTC charged that Fox Cable is trying to circumvent its obligations under conditions set when News Corp. purchased a stake in DirecTV Group in 2004. Under those strictures, small cable systems can designate bargaining agents to negotiate their carriage deals.

NCTC president Jeff Abbas charged in his latest FCC letter that Fox Cable and its president of affiliate sales and marketing, Lindsay Gardner, “have now made it clear that Fox has no intention -- and apparently never intended -- to honor the commitment made to the commission to abide by the bargaining-agent condition.”

Fox Cable declined to comment Monday.

The NCTC claimed that its efforts to negotiate a master agreement for Fox’s many RSNs on behalf of its members have been hamstrung by the programmer. The co-op wants access to confidential provisions of its members’ existing sports-channel deals with Fox Cable, and the programmer has objected to this in its own letters to the FCC.

Abbas once again argued that the NCTC needs “access to such baseline information” such as an RSN’s content, zone distinctions, surcharges and length of its members’ deals in order to negotiate on behalf of those operators.

Fox Cable -- in its response to the NCTC’s first letter to the FCC, which was sent July 25 -- told the commission it needs to know exactly which cable operators have designated the NCTC as their bargaining agent for RSN deals.

Abbas argued otherwise in his new Sept. 20 letter, saying that his members “are concerned that disclosing those names to Fox in advance of an agency relationship could expose and subject those companies to pressure and retaliation by Fox.”

About 330 cable companies, according to Abbas, have expressed an interest in having the NCTC act as their bargaining agent for Fox-affiliated sports-network agreements.

Abbas also labeled as “meritless” Fox Cable’s argument that if it enters into a carriage deal for its sports channels with the NCTC, it might be violating antitrust laws.