The Relaunch of FreeTheFlyers.com

As you may already know, Comcast’s deal with Time Warner to take over the bankrupt Adelphia was approved by the FCC in mid-July and completed later in the month.

Having convinced about 200 of my fellow sports fans in Philadelphia to submit comments through FreeTheFlyers.com asking the FCC to use this as an opportunity to close the Comcast Loophole – also known as the terrestrial loophole that allows the cable giant to withhold sports programming from other TV providers in the city – I was keen to see what conditions would be placed on the deal.

Harold Feld has an excellent, cogent, comprehensive, and entertaining analysis of the deal. Here’s what he has to say about the Comcast Loophole and regional sports networks (RSN): They kept the Philly carve out… Eagles, Sixers, and Phillies fans — sucks to be you!

Yes, that means what you think it means. They forced Comcast and Time Warner to share their sports programming in all other cities, but made a special exception for the city of brotherly love. Not too different from the “special gift” that Jeff Gelles described on his blog. It does suck to be us.

As Jeff also reported, a provision in Senate Bill 2686 (a.k.a. the Stevens Bill; a.k.a. the Telecommunications Act of 2006) that would have closed the Comcast Loophole was removed following Comcast VP David L. Cohen’s testimony.

So I am relaunching FreeTheFlyers.com to urge Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter to oppose the bill unless that provision goes back in. As Chair of the Judiciary Committee, he should be in a position to wield considerable influence over the process.

However, given Comcast’s clout and the fact that it was already taken out, I think it is a long shot that it would go back in. So we’ll add our voices to the chorus of boos on the Stevens Bill and in the meantime let our senior senator know that we care about media issues.

S2686 is bad on a lot of fronts. It’s main impact would be to shift authority for franchising video service providers (VSP) away from local municipalities and to the federal government, making it easier for now-phone companies like Verizon and AT&T to offer television over their new fiber optic lines. This would effectively screw public access in larger cities.

The bill also fails to preserve the open internet.

Net neutrality notwithstanding, though, since Philly doesn’t have a public access station and is caught in the vicelike grip of our incumbent, hometown VSP, this bill might do more good than harm for our city in the short term, if it closes the Comcast Loophole. Without that, any potential competitor, whether Verizon or DirecTV, will remain on the margins.

Long term, a Verizon-Comcast duopoly is about as bad as a Comcast monopoly. It doesn’t change the fundamental us-them imbalance of the system, it just tweaks the them-them balance. And without an open internet, it’s all just whistling past the graveyard.

I would love to be able to articulate an amend-but-oppose strategy for Philly sports fans as Prometheus Radio did so fantastically for low-power FM proponents, but we Freers of the Flyers might be a little more single-minded than that group.

I think it would be really difficult to make the argument based on public access (again, just a dream in Philadelphia), but Ruby Legs offers a good explanation of how the Comcast-hating sports fan logic applies to net neutrality. In short, it’s all about leverage: it’s our content and we want it our way.

Keep our Phillies.com free!

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1 Comment

  1. […] Yesterday I told you that I was relaunching the Free The Flyers website, now directing comments to Senator Arlen Specter. […]

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