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TWC: Time for RSN Regs to Ride Into Sunset

Time Warner Cable tells the FCC that it should let the regional sports network program access conditions in the Adelphia merger sunset next year as planned.

That came in reply comments on the state of competition in the RSN space in general and the sunset of the conditions on Time Warner and Comcast's $17.4 billion divvying up of the Adelphia cable systems out of bankruptcy.

"The Commission should determine that the Adelphia Order conditions have outlived their purpose and allow them to sunset as planned. In fact, the Commission cannot unilaterally extend or modify those conditions as some parties appear to assume," TWC wrote.

The cable operator added that if the FCC does feel it has to take further steps to protect so called must-have sports programming, it must look beyond cable to DirecTV's exclusive Sunday Ticket package of NFL games and to the Big Four broadcast networks, which have exclusive rights to college and pro games.

"[I]f market forces are insufficient to ensure consumer access to such programming, the problem is not vertical integration, but rather the nature of the programming itself and the negotiating leverage it can confer," TWC said. "It would be irrational (and thus arbitrary and capricious) to focus solely on cable-owned RSNs when the major programming conglomerates use their control of sports programming rights held by Big Four broadcast networks and affiliated cable networks, together with owned-and-operated broadcast stations (and, increasingly, independent stations that pay 'reverse compensation' to the network), to extract supra-competitive rates from cable subscribers."

Calling local sports "must- have" programming, the FCC back in July 2006 added conditions to prevent the companies from controlling access to RSNs, though with a carve-out for Philadelphia, where Comcast has kept the MLB's Phillies off the satellite competition. In addition, the FCC included some protections for leased-access programmers.

Comcast and Time Warner were required to put disputes over pricing or access to its RSNs into arbitration. The companies also could not deny access to their sports networks to any other multichannel programming providers.

Last week, Comcast also told the FCC that the RSN marketplace was intensely competitive, that the FCC should refrain from imposing any new program access regs, and should consider getting rid of the current program access rules altogether.

TWC took a slightly different track, defending the sunset by saying the current rules are sufficient to handle potential harms.