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Fox, Cablevision dispute stretches into 5th day

Wed, 10/20/2010 - 8:15am
The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) – The dispute between Fox and Cablevision that has left 3 million cable subscribers in the New York area without Fox programming has stretched into its fifth day.

Fox escalated the situation farther than any programmer ever has, having blocked its content from Cablevision subscribers via broadband; Fox cut off Cablevision broadband subs from both its own site and from Hulu.

Fox apparently decided to cut off all access to all Cablevision video subs, but it reversed itself and ceased blocking online access when it realized that it was cutting off Cablevision customers who were broadband-only subscribers.

Hulu explained it cut off Cablevision broadband subs in the interest of remaining neutral.

DirecTV, Dish Network and the American Cable Association (ACA) sent a joint letter to the FCC demanding the FCC extract a promise from Comcast that it would not behave similarly to Fox should Comcast's proposed acquisition of NBC Universal be approved.

Meanwhile, Sen. John Kerry called the retransmission regime "broken" and offered a draft of proposed legislation that would empower the FCC to get involved in resolving disputes between programmers and service providers.

"Rather than take sides in a conflict of corporate interests, we can all agree that this system works least of all for consumers, the primary interest we represent in matters of public policy-making," Kerry wrote to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

"I hope you will agree that the current process – which forces all sides, and particularly consumers, into lousy choices – is broken and in need of reform.  Currently, either party, sufficiently strong willed, can play a game of negotiating chicken with the consumer caught in the middle.  It incentivizes conflict over negotiation," Kerry continued.

The proposed legislation would empower the FCC to encourage the negotiating parties to keep negotiating, without the threat of service interruption. If negotiations fail, the FCC would encourage arbitration. And if the FCC finds that either or both of the parties are negotiating in bad faith, the FCC can require binding arbitration, and even assess fines.

Fox, owned by News Corp., says talks with Cablevision are to resume today. Cablevision reiterated calls for binding arbitration to resolve the dispute, something Fox has resisted.

The dispute over how much Cablevision will pay to carry the network on its lineup has led to the highest-profile blackout over broadcast fees in years. It has left Cablevision subscribers without access to New York Giants games and the medical drama "House."

Unless there's a deal by tonight, subscribers will miss the fourth National League Championship Series game between the San Francisco Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies.

– CED's Brian Santo contributed to this report

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