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 email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.
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