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Wheeler Talks With Rep. Cárdenas Over TWC/Dodgers Letter

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is meeting with Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) Tuesday afternoon, prompted by Cárdenas' letter last week asking the FCC to mediate the carriage dispute between Time Warner Cable and various distributors over carriage of SportsNet LA and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Time Warner Cable launched SportsNet LA in February, but a number of distributors complained about the price — some reports put is as high as $4 per sub per month — especially when combined with three other RSNs in the market (Prime Ticket, Fox Sports LA and Time Warner Cable SportsNet) and aren't taking the network.

In the letter to Wheeler, Cárdenas along with seven other House Democrats, said they were increasingly concerned about the absence of the net on Cox, Charter, Suddenlink, Dish, DirecTV, FiOS (Verizon) and U-verse (AT&T).

At the Minority Media & Telecommunications Conference, Cárdenas said he was sorry Wheeler had only been able to appear via video, but said he had to leave to talk to Wheeler on the phone.

He said after he wrote the letter, Wheeler called him and asked to talk. He suggested the carriage fight was a "subset" of larger media consolidation battles, and that this would not be the last of what he hoped would be "respectful, cordial and overdue conversations."

Cárdenas took aim in his speech at culturally sensitive ads that don't make sense because they are not coming from the actual culture. He also alluded to MSNBC's culturally insenstive Cinco de Mayo segment featuring a correspondent in a sombrero drinking tequila, calling it an atrocity. MSNBC apologized, but Cárdenas said what was needed was action, not apologies, action in hiring the best people for the job no matter what color they are.

He said vertically integrated companies may not realize diversity is something that needs to permeate their organizations.

Cárdenas said he is a big backer of MMTC—110% was his figure—and that if they ever needed his help, just ask.

Following the letter, Time Warner Cable said it would agree to binding arbitration with DirecTV and to let the satellite operator carry the games in the interim.

"We are willing to enter into binding arbitration with DirecTV, and we appreciate the Congressman’s concern for Dodger fans. We prefer to reach agreements through private business negotiations, but given the current circumstance, we are willing to agree to binding arbitration and to allow DirecTV customers to watch the Dodgers games while the arbitration is concluded," TWC said in a statement.

The Dodgers were rooting for that option. “We're very pleased that our partners at Time Warner Cable have readily agreed to submit SportsNet LA to binding arbitration, and we urge DirecTV to quickly agree so that we can get these games on the air for their customers,” said Los Angeles Dodgers president Stan Kasten.

Asked whether it would agree to the arbitration, DirecTV’s response was the following.

"We agree with Congressman [Brad] Sherman [one of the letter signatories along with Cárdenas] that any loyal Dodger fans deserve the opportunity to see games, yet not at the expense of the millions of other AT&T U-verse, Charter Communications, Cox Communications, DIRECTV, Dish Network, Mediacom, Suddenlink Communications, Verizon FiOS and other families who have little or no interest in paying for Time Warner Cable's excess. Rather than force everyone to bail Time Warner Cable out, the simplest solution is to enable only those who want to pay to see the remaining Dodgers games to do so at the price Time Warner Cable wants to set."

A Time Warner Cable spokesperson said the company has not approached DirecTV about arbitration, saying it was in the process of responding to the letter from the legislators.