FCC chairman tells Time Warner to end Dodgers TV dispute

LOS ANGELES, July 29 Tue Jul 29, 2014 6:57pm EDT

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LOS ANGELES, July 29 (Reuters) - The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission told Time Warner Inc on Tuesday to end its dispute with DirecTV and other cable operators that has left most fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team unable to watch games on local television.

In a strongly worded letter, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler expressed "strong concern" over Time Warner Cable's actions to charge fees to other cable networks to air the games.

Time Warner Cable, which operates the SportsNet LA channel that carries Dodger games, wants other TV operators to pay SportsNet LA fees of as much as $5 a month per subscriber, which they say they have to pass onto their subscribers.

In a letter to Time Warner Cable's CEO Robert D. Marcus, Wheeler wrote: "I am troubled by the negative impact that your apparent actions are having on consumers and the overall video marketplace."

"Inaction is no longer acceptable," Wheeler added. "I strongly urge you to end the impasses that are depriving Los Angeles consumers from being able to watch their home baseball team."

Wheeler's letter followed a proposal by a group of Los Angeles area federal lawmakers for the FCC to mediate the dispute, which has shut out most of the region's Dodgers fans from watching their team on television since the baseball season began in March.

Time Warner Cable said it agreed to enter into arbitration. In response to Wheeler's letter, the company said in a statement on Tuesday: "We're grateful for the FCC's intervention and happy to work with them to gain carriage for the Dodgers - that has been our goal all along."

"We hope that Chairman Wheeler is making similar inquiries of DirecTV and other LA television distributors to determine their rationale for refusing to carry SportsNet LA, which we have offered at terms similar to other regional sports networks, including those owned by DirecTV."

Last year Time Warner Cable paid $8.35 billion for the right to air 25 years of Dodgers games.

Wheeler said he was "encouraged" by Time Warner Cable's willingness to enter into arbitration, but demanded a written explanation from the company within 10 days about the arbitration process it has proposed and "other steps TWC will take to resolve this matter if arbitration is not successful."

The six lawmakers said in their letter to FCC chairman Wheeler: "The ongoing stalemate between Time Warner Cable and other pay-TV providers has reached a point where mediation by the FCC is necessary."

On Tuesday DirecTV had not committed to entering into arbitration.

Major League Baseball said it supported the mediation proposal and applauded Time Warner's willingness to seek an arbitration.

Time Warner is currently being acquired by Comcast Corp. in a $45 billion merger that is under review by the FCC and the U.S. Justice Department. (Reporting by Tim Reid; Editing by Ronald Grover and Diane Craft)

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