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Wheeler Seeks Documents from Time Warner Cable

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has told Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus in no uncertain terms that he has "strong concern" that TWC’s actions "have created the inability of consumers in the Los Angeles area to watch televised games of the Los Angeles Dodgers."

That came in a letter to Marcus on the same day (July 29) Wheeler talked to Rep. Tony Cárdenas and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) about the carriage dispute involving the TWC-owned regional sports network that carries the Dodgers and various distributors. The chairman also talked to Marcus on the phone before sending the letter, according to an FCC source.

The chairman vowed that the FCC would "intervene as appropriate" to bring "necessary relief to consumers." He has given TWC 10 days to provide some relevant documents, including copies of documents, and an explanation of the impasse.

Time Warner Cable signaled it would cooperate, but suggested the chairman needed to widen his net.

“We’re grateful for the FCC’s intervention and happy to work with them to gain carriage for the Dodgers – that has been our goal all along," the company said in a statement. "We hope that Chairman Wheeler is making similar inquiries of DirecTV and other LA television distributors to determine their rationale for refusing to carry SportsNet LA, which we have offered at terms similar to other regional sports networks, including those owned by DirecTV. We look forward to a productive discussion.”

Wheeler says in the letter that he understands TWC has said it is willing to agree to binding arbitration to resolve the dispute, but does not appear to be assuaged. "While I am encouraged by TWC's willingness to enter arbitration, I am troubled by the negative impact that your apparent actions are having on consumers and the overall video marketplace."

"The FCC will continue to monitor this dispute closely," Wheeler told Marcus. "As detailed below, I am requesting that TWC provide my office with a written explanation of the arbitration process it has proposed, how that process could bring relief to consumers expeditiously, and what other steps TWC will take to resolve this matter if arbitration is not successful. I also ask TWC to provide my office with certain documents that are relevant to your agreement with SportsNet LA and its impact on consumers and the marketplace."

Wheeler cited the letter he received last week from eight members of Congress—Cárdenas as one of them—asking the FCC to step into the dispute, as well as outreach from local officials, the latter which he commented on.

"It is particularly dismaying that your company has apparently ignored how both the Mayor of Los Angeles and the Attorney General of California have expressed concern about the impact that this protracted dispute is having on consumers in Los Angeles."

The chairman also said he was concerned about the impact on broadband adoption, which is the FCC hook into many an issue.

"Because of TWC's exclusive hold on SportsNet LA and the limited options that exist to view Dodgers games online, I am also concerned about the negative impact that this dispute may have on the growth of broadband services in the Los Angeles area," he said.

Wheeler ended the letter on a note of optimism, but even that had a sting in the tail.

"I continue to have the hope that this dispute can be resolved in the marketplace. Nevertheless, given the breadth and protracted nature of this dispute, it is appropriate that we begin to assemble the facts and build a record. Inaction is no longer acceptable. I strongly urge you to end the impasses that are depriving Los Angeles consumers from being able to watch their home baseball team."

Wheeler wants the following, unredacted, documents:

(1) Any contract or agreement between TWC, or any of its affiliates, and SportsNet LA, or any of its affiliates, providing TWC with rights to SportsNet LA, including rights governing affiliate sales or the sale of advertising, and including any schedules or amendments to the contract;

(2) Any contract or agreement governing TWC's, or any of its affiliates', carriage of SportsNet LA, including any schedules or amendments to the contract or agreement, or 2

any term sheet summarizing the terms and conditions under which TWC currently carries SportsNet LA;

(3) Any term sheet, or other document proposing terms and conditions of carriage, that TWC or any of its affiliates have supplied to any other MVPD in the footprint of SportsNet LA concerning the carriage of SportsNet LA; and

(4) Any term sheet, or other document proposing terms and conditions of carriage, that TWC or any of its affiliates have received from any other MVPD operating within the footprint of SportsNet LA concerning the carriage of SportsNet LA.