Football fans should vote with their feet

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Steven Bornstein
Tuesday, November 27, 2007

As head of NFL Network and a representative of the NFL, I am supposed to remain impartial about our teams. But after spending my college years in Madison, I admit that watching the Packers’ green and gold take the field still gets my blood pumping.

This Thursday, the 10-1 Green Bay Packers will face off against the 10-1 Dallas Cowboys. Packer backers from all over will settle in for the NFC match-up of the season. But unless you have satellite TV, or service from a video provider like AT&T or Verizon, you will be sorely disappointed. Big Cable—Comcast, Time Warner and Charter—is blocking our NFL games and making you miss out on the action.

Big Cable is keeping NFL Network off their broad and affordable programming packages so most NFL fans—including those who subscribe to Time Warner and Charter and live outside of Green Bay and Milwaukee—will miss the game and the coverage running up to it.

We favor letting the free market work. But when cable companies use their power to block fans from seeing their teams unless they pay extra, the market isn’t working. Cable companies know that die-hard fans will pay more to see NFL football, making the losers in this dispute the fans. The only way to make your voice heard is to switch to a provider that offers NFL Network—satellite TV, or video offerings from Verizon FiOS or AT&T U-Verse.

Ultimately, however, a remedy is needed to fix this market failure. The government should not dictate the solution, but our elected leaders should work to ensure that Big Cable cannot treat its own channels better than it treats independent channels. These companies not only control what content gets aired, but they also own many of the channels in your cable package.

Ever wonder why you have eight shopping channels but can’t find NFL Network? NFL Network, like a handful of other sports, ethnic and family-friendly channels, is not owned by a cable company, so Big Cable will only offer it on a pay-extra tier that is too pricey or refuse to carry it at all.

In Wisconsin, Sen. Dave Hansen and Rep. Kitty Rhoades have drafted legislation known as the Fair Access to Networks (FAN) Act. FAN would simply allow a neutral arbitrator to settle disputes between an independent programmer like NFL Network and cable companies like Time Warner and Charter. We believe we’ve offered Big Cable a fair deal, and we don’t fear a neutral party making a decision. If Big Cable truly believes they’re treating fans fairly, they should also back the FAN bill.

We aren’t asking the government to take sides in this dispute, but we do believe that a neutral third-party arbitrator should be able to bring about an agreement. It’s time for our leaders to stand up for fans. Until they do, fans should stand up for themselves—vote with your feet and leave Big Cable’s hypocrisy behind you.

Steven Bornstein is president and CEO of NFL Network. For more information, click on the Web site www.football247wisconsin.com.

Last updated: 9:46 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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