NFL team wants a referee


Panthers President Mark Richardson is calling for enactment of a bill currently before the South Carolina House of Representatives, H.4374, the Cable Antidiscrimination and Dispute Resolution Act of 2008, which would force cable companies — and prominently mentioned are Comcast and Time Warner — to appear before a panel of neutral arbitrators, to decide carriage issues. (The Carolina Panthers are actually headquarter, of course, in North Carolina.)

The Panthers are acting on behalf of their league’s NFL Network, but the bill would be available to any independent cable offering.

"NFL Network is going to be a huge component of the Carolina Panthers future success, and we could not succeed without our South Carolina fan base and the ability to continue creating new Panthers fans here," said Richardson. "But the nation’s largest cable companies — two of which, Comcast and Time Warner, are also dominant cable providers in the Carolinas — discriminate against NFL Network and other independently owned networks. They favor channels that they own by refusing to carry our content unless we agree to allow them to charge their customers extra for a premium package."

He concluded, "The arbitration system created by H.4374 is an efficient, consumer-focused dispute resolution system to level the playing field between the cable operators and independent networks such as the NFL Network. It will quickly and fairly get consumers the programming they want, on market terms not distorted by ‘bottleneck’ carriers like Time Warner."

RBR/TVBR observation: What tangled webs we weave, indeed. How can you expect vertically-integrated conglomerates to not favor their own sister offerings? Cable operators are already required to carry local broadcast offerings — should there be an certain percentage of channel capacity set aside for independent channels? Should MSOs be treated like common carriers and forced to sell off all of their programming assets? Should subscribers get a vote? Are arbitrators going to determine channel lineups? Or should the NFL be required to look out for itself as is now the case?

Ed Markey’s Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet has already looked into this matter with no ready solutions offered up, possibly because there are no ready solutions, other than the status quo application of free market forces. If South Carolina and other jurisdictions do insert themselves forcibly into the equation, and run through all of the inevitable legislative modifications and court challenges, there is a very real possibility that technology will have rendered it a moot point.