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Officials protest MSG blackout to boro fans

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State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) is calling foul on Time Warner Cable and the Madison Square Garden Company for hitting an impasse that has resulted in a television blackout of a number of professional sports teams.

“Year after year, residents of New York City and all across the nation suffer through battles between cable channels and their service providers that often result in a disruption of service,” Avella said at his office Tuesday. “Nobody really knows which side, if any side, is being unreasonable during these negotiations.”

As of Monday, Time Warner Cable customers had missed 52 New York Knicks, New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders games since the multi-year contract between the cable provider and MSG, one of its content providers, expired Dec. 31.

Time Warner Cable claims it agreed to pay a 6.5 percent increase for three MSG channels.

“MSG reneged on the deal and wanted a 53 percent increase for MSG and MSG+ and wanted to include Fuse, which is watched by less than one-tenth of a percent of TWC customers,” said spokesman Eric Mangan.

A spokesman for MSG said Time Warner had rejected all of the fair and reasonable proposals the company put on the table.

“MSG is simply asking Time Warner Cable to value our content in the same manner as other TV providers — nothing more, nothing less,” the spokesman wrote in an e-mail.

Both spokesmen said there were no ongoing, meaningful discussions between their companies.

City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) wrote a letter to the heads of both companies, urging them to resolve their differences.

This is a game Avella has watched before. Cable providers are regulated by the city as public utilities, and Avella said he tried to introduce legislation when he was chairman of the City Council Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, requiring the two companies to go to arbitration during a contract dispute in 2005.

The senator introduced a bill Tuesday that would require cable franchisees to negotiate contracts with independent cable channels fairly or else be required to enter into arbitration.

“These are public franchises and there has to be more public input and oversight by the municipality,” he said. “The bottom line is the people who get most affected are the customers and the sports fans.”

Wearing a New York Rangers No. 30 Henrik Lundqvist jersey, Bayside Hills resident Michael Feiner said he has been forced to come up with some creative solutions to follow his favorite teams.

“I go to Strawberry’s to watch Knicks games. The Rangers I listen to on the radio,” he said. “I guess you could figure out a way to watch on the computer.”

He said he believed the MSG company, which owns the Knicks and Rangers, had an ethical obligation to ensure fans could watch their teams.

“They finally made their two crappy teams decent,” he said. “We’re the ones getting the shaft, and if not for us, they wouldn’t exist.”

In a game with several losers, the winners may end up being those who subscribe to other cable providers.

“I notice a lot more people coming in, especially on the weekdays when they normally wouldn’t come out,” said Jim Gargan, one of the co-owners of the Safari Beach Club sports bar on Bell Boulevard, which subscribes to Verizon FiOS and DirecTV.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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Reader Feedback

brad from Upper Westside says:
At the very least both these companies should lose all local tax breaks and loopholes for not providing service to the citizens of the locality giving them these tax subsidies.
Jan. 18, 2012, 7 am
jonathan from Upper West Side says:
I totally agree with Brad's comment about losing tax breaks.
Dolan - you are screwing the very people that make your franchise possible - the fans! Try to remember that when you watch a Knicks or Rangers game from your fancy box - or is this just a business to you and you dont even care about the games?
Shame on you - you are a disgrace to these sports that your clubs play.
Jan. 19, 2012, 7:49 pm
Dan from Jackson Heights says:
This is a really annoying situation honestly. I really couldn't care who is in the wrong...it's really both parties. However all I know is I pay Time Warner every month what I consider to be an exorbitant amount of money which PS: is about to go up 30 bucks a month because my promotional pricing is expiring, and I can't watch any Knicks or Rangers games. I called them when the blackout started to see what kind of price break they intended to give me because I lost this programming and they practically laughed at me. I called again today to see what my options are because my promotional pricing is up and they told me if i wanted to pay the same amount I should get slower internet and eliminate all the HD channels in my programming. Seriously??? Essentially they're just further encouraging me to dump them.
Jan. 21, 2012, 12:42 pm
Dave from Staten Island says:
My cable bill goes up and my service goes down. They black out one of the few things I watch, Rangers hockey... Time Warner gives its subscribers for their trouble the NHL and NBA networks for free while this pissing contest goes on. The catch is that both the Rangers and Knicks are blacked out even on those networks also... what a scam.
I'm boycotting some of the sponsors and that money saved is going in the bank. I am also going to drop TWC when Fios comes to my development. TWC was better when it was Staten Island cable and they actually cared about their customers. It's time for the customers to not care about their subscribers.
Feb. 5, 2012, 8:21 am

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