2008-01-04 / Columnists

It's My Turn

Black Out The Yankees? Never Again
Commentary by City Councilman Tony Avella

TONY AVELLA TONY AVELLA When Jimmy Dolan and Cablevision, in all of their arrogance, blacked out the Yankees for a full season in 2002, I vowed to make sure it could never happen again. But because Cablevision has a 10-year franchise agreement with the city, I knew I would have to bide my time. Well, that time has finally come and it's up to the New York City Council to make sure we fight for all consumers, not just Yankee fans.

To prevent blackouts like the Yankees had to endure, as well as to avoid the two-month blackout the Mets suffered in 2005, I have proposed legislation that would put an end once and for all to Big Cable's ability to make selfserving decisions without regard for consumers who already pay too much for cable. In short, my Fair Access and Independent Resolution (FAIR) plan would require Cablevision, Time Warner or any cable operator in New York City to submit to mandatory arbitration if negotiations with a content provider fail to yield a deal in a reasonable amount of time. In other words, Cablevision could not drag out negotiations for months and months like they did to the Yes Network, which carries the Yankee's games. And they certainly would not be in a position to black out games, under my plan. It's really that simple: If Cablevision and Time Warner can't reach a deal with a content provider in a fair amount of time, then the dispute goes to arbitration and a decision gets made in a timely way. My plan does not dictate to Big Cable who they can put on their air, but does ensure that everyone gets a timely decision.

Why now? Because for the first time in 10 years, the cable companies are negotiating with the city to get new franchise agreements - deals that also are likely to stretch 10 years. Under my legislation, in order to get a new franchise agreement, Cablevision and Time Warner would have to agree to mandatory arbitration to resolve disputes with context providers. These franchise deals are the best and only leverage the City has over Big Cable and we must not let this opportunity pass.

Today, we see the NFLNetwork, the Black News Network, the Hallmark Channel and a host of ethnic stations important to communities across the city struggling to get a fair deal with Big Cable. There really is little any of these networks can do right now, other than try to bring public pressure on Big Cable. Anyone who has called their cable company to complain about service outages knows just how well that works.

Big Cable often blocks these kinds of stations because they own competing channels, and give those station preferential treatments. Does anyone really think Cablevision is going to black out Knicks' games, given that they own the team. Of course not.

To be clear, I'm not arguing that any particular network should get on the air - only that Big Cable should not be allowed to ignore them and the interests of consumers across the city simply to protect their own profits.

It's crucial we act now, or face another decade of the likes of Jimmy Dolan deciding what we can and can't watch on cable.

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