Comcast Loophole before the Senate

Industry watchers, Philly sports fans, and those in attendance at last week's City Council hearing on the Area II franchise transfer have all by now spotted the meager argument the cable industry is offering in defense of the Comcast loophole.

Here it is paraphrased from National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Kyle McSlarrow in an article on the Stevens bill in the Senate that would create a national franchise:

He labeled a step backward the addition of sports program-access language that he says applies restrictions on cable that do not apply to satellite, singling out DirecTV's exclusive NFL Sunday Ticket access to football games.

Ruby Legs over at Phillyville already took Jeff Alexander to task for saying much the same thing to the Philadelphia Business Journal last week:

Alexander said satellite provider DirecTV has exclusive rights to programming that it does not share with cable companies, including the popular NFL Sunday Ticket package, which allows viewers to choose among several NFL games in one afternoon.

Seriously, folks, you're talking about apples and oranges – and we paid for your orchard.

Yes, both Philly SportsNet and NFL Sunday Ticket are "competitive advantages" – to use the phrase of the Comcast spokesperson at the City Council hearing – but our tax dollars paid for your competitive advantage.

Plus NFL Sunday Ticket does not preclude anyone in Philadelphia from seeing Eagles games, while free TV and satellite TV watchers in Philadelphia are shut out of many Phillies, Flyers, and Sixers games.

So Free The Flyers! Release the Sixers! Let our Phillies Go!

Like I said, Ruby Legs already summed this up in great detail. And nearly 200 people from the Philadelphia area have said as much to the FCC through the "Free the Flyers" comment engine. Our shared hope is that the FCC will close the Comcast Loophole as a condition on the takeover of bankrupt Adelphia Communications.

One possible scenario, at this point, would be for the FCC to deliberate long enough for the Adelphia creditors to get antsy so maybe the whole deal falls through. For details on this angle, you've got to read Harold Feld's blog, Tales of the Sausage Factory, especially "Is the Comcast/Time Warner/Adelphia Deal In Trouble?" (For background, see "Adelphia Transaction Advances" and his white paper, “Cable Market Power for Dummies.”)

That would be good in the sense that it would keep the already-mammoth Comcast and Time Warner from growing more mammoth. But it wouldn't solve the Comcast Loophole problem.

That's why it's so interesting that the Stevens bill addresses the issue. It's a sign that pressure is coming from many sides (including from the phone companies who are looking to eliminate all of the cable companies' "competitive advantages"). And it suggests that there might be more than one way to skin this cat. The bad news, of course, is all of the bad things in the Stevens bill, like a national video franchise and a closed Internet.

So we keep fighting…

UPDATE: I just learned from Jeff Gelles's blog that David L. Cohen offered a further defense of the Comcast Loophole before the Senate: It's not a national problem because they're only screwing over one town: ours. Gelles calls it "Comcast's special gift to Philadelphia."

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