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N.Y. State Sen. Grisanti Pushes for Cable Carriage Bill

Republican New York State Senator Mark Grisanti, who represents Buffalo, continues to push for a new bill that would force cable program carriage impasses to the negotiating table.

That bill was prompted by the ongoing impasse between MSG Networks and Time Warner Cable that has blacked out Buffalo Sabres games to TWC customers since Jan. 1 after the two sides could not agree on a carriage deal.

According to his chief of staff, Doug Curella, Grisanti, a former Democrat, has signed on as a co-signer on S. 6230, which would require negotiations on fair terms between cable operators and programmers, and authorizes the public service commission to require arbitration of negotiations.

The FCC is empowered to enforce a reasonable negotiation standard for cable/broadcast retrans negotiations, but does not have a similar broad mandate when it comes to MSO/cable network negotiations, beyond the more specific protections of program access and program carriage rules.

The bill is in its early stages, having only been referred to the Energy & Telecommunications Committee Jan. 17, said Curella.

S. 6230, which had a total of 3 co-sponsors at press time, amends the public service law to "requiring franchisees to negotiate fairly to determine the terms and conditions under which competing independent cable channels will be carried by the franchisee and, in the event such agreement as to terms and conditions cannot be reached, provisions require the commission to conduct an arbitration of the matter."

The bill's authors take aim squarely at vertically integrated cable companies in no uncertain terms, saying in their published justification for the legislation that those companies "use their franchise ownership to deny access to programming to their competitors in an effort to gouge prices and protect their own financial interests."

While the Feb. 11 Sabres game would ordinarily only be on the regional sports network, MSG has struck a deal with TV stations in Buffalo and Rochester to simulcast the game in those markets. "We're happy to watch [that game] on television," said Curella, "but we need to find a more long-term solution."

Also backing the bill are Democrats sponsors Suzi Oppenheimer of Mamaroneck and Joseph Addabbo of Long Island.