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NFL Today: Time Warner Still Huddling

At press time, Time Warner had still not decided whether and how to challenge the FCC's order to restore the NFL Network to cable systems it took over Aug. 1 from Comcast and Adelphia.

Time Warner does not carry the network on any of its systems, and pulled them from its new systems once it took them over in the carve-up--with Comcast--of bankrupt Adelphia. The NFL cried foul and the FCC threw a flag, ordering Time Warner to put the network back on while the commission considered the merits of the NFL's complaint that the systems did not give the requisite 30-days notice before pulling the signals.

Time Warner, which argued the short notice was beyond its control, put the network back on the systems Aug. 4, then appealed the FCC's Media Bureau decision . The bureau rejected the appeal on Monday.

Time Warner could now appeal the Media Bureau decision to the full commission, take the decision to court, or keep the channel on four the 30 days the FCC says is required notice, then pull it. Of course, the two sides could also reach agreement, as did Comcast and the MidAtlantic Sports Network over baseball carriage when time pressure wa applied by the FCC.

Time Warner is currently mulling either an FCC or court appeal, says spokesman Mark Harrad, and has been running a crawl on the affected systems since Aug. 4 with the following notice: "Please be advised that Time Warner Cable will discontinue carriage of the NFL network effective Sept. 3 [the requisite 30-day notice] unless we reach a satisfactory aggreement with the network that is in the best interests or our customers."

One Washington observer from the public interest community who has taken on large cable companies himself said he wasn't sure what would happen: "I am very unclear if Time Warner will back off," he said. "It is not rational to take this to court, but emotions seem to be running very high."

The emotions stem from an ongoing dispute over price and placement.

Time Warner isn't sanguine about paying what it says is 350% more for the NFL Network than the NFL used to charge. Of course, the old price was when the network had no regular-season games. Now it has a package of eight, forgoing billions in rights fees to keep the games in-house and try to get close to a buck per sub, rather than the 20 cents-50 cents charged by most top-10 cable nets.

Time Warner also wants the channel on a sports tier, while the NFL wants it on expanded basic.