Dems ask FCC to umpire baseball television fight

A group of California Democrats is calling on the Federal Communications Commission to help resolve a dispute between cable companies over showing Los Angeles Dodgers games on television.

Eight Los Angeles-area House lawmakers expressed their “growing concern” about the fight between Time Warner Cable and a slew of other TV companies that so far has left thousands of baseball fans in the dark.

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If the FCC does not come in to pinch hit, they warned, the fight could set a precedent "for vertically integrated companies to hold the consumer hostage to assert unfair market dominance.”

Currently, Dodgers games in Los Angeles are shown on SportsNet LA, a new channel owned by the team but distributed by Time Warner Cable. For the privilege of running the station, Time Warner Cable is paying a reported $1.5 million per game, compared with the $335,000 that stations paid to carry games on other channels last year.

Time Warner Cable has asked other cable companies like Cox, DirecTV and Dish for comparably high fees to carry the channel. So far all of them have balked.

That has meant that all season, only Dodgers fans who were also Time Warner Cable subscribers have been able to watch their home team, leaving about 70 percent of the market without the channel. 

To fix things, lawmakers called on the FCC to intervene. 

“The ongoing stalemate between Time Warner Cable and other pay-TV providers has reached a point where mediation by the FCC is necessary,” they wrote. “The FCC must ensure that we have a competitive market and no one company has an unfair advantage at the expense of consumers.”

The eight California Democrats signing the letter were Reps. Tony Cardenas, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Alan Lowenthal, Brad Sherman, Linda Sanchez, Julia Brownley, Janice Hahn and Judy Chu.

Time Warner Cable is currently seeking approval from the FCC and Justice Department to be purchased by Comcast for $45 billion. Critics of the merger have warned that allowing the two cable giants to merge would create a behemoth that, among other things, could use their market dominance to force sports leagues to show games exclusively on networks they own or control. 

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