Fourth Circuit rules for Time Warner in dispute with MASN

Michael P. Tremoglie May 16, 2012, 9:00am

RICHMOND, Va. (Legal Newsline) - The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued a ruling Monday that says Time Warner Cable had not acted improperly by refusing to offer TCR Sports' broadcasts on an analog tier in its North Carolina cable system.

TCR Sports Broadcasting Holding, d/b/a Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, appealed a Federal Communications Commission ruling that Time Warner declined to carry the programming for legitimate and non-discriminatory reasons.

MASN owns the rights to broadcast nearly all Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals baseball games. Its television territory goes from Pennsylvania to North Carolina.

It negotiated with Time Warner for televising the games in North Carolina. Time Warner offered carriage of MASN programming on a digital sports tier or on an analog tier in Time Warner's cable systems only in eastern North Carolina. However, MASN wanted program carriage on the statewide analog tier.

MASN filed a complaint with independent arbitrators that ruled in its favor. The FCC's media bureau also ruled in MASN's favor. But Time Warner appealed to the full FCC which found in its favor. MASN appealed the full FCC ruling to the Fourth Circuit.

MASN said that the FCC ruling was incorrect and should be vacated. It maintained that Time Warner engaged in unlawful discrimination.

But a Fourth Circuit three-judge panel said, "The FCC concluded that the 'high cost of carriage' of Mid-Atlantic Sports Network was a 'legitimate and non-discriminatory' reason for its refusal to carry Mid-Atlantic Sports Network on a statewide analog tier.

"Additionally, the FCC found that Time Warner was willing to negotiate with Mid-Atlantic Sports Network over digital carriage programming throughout North Carolina, as well as an analog tier programming in eastern North Carolina. Mid-Atlantic Sports Network rejected those proposals, which would have provided access of Mid-Atlantic Sports Network's programming to Time Warner subscribers.

"Accordingly, we find the evidence supports the FCC's determination that Time Warner's decision was "driven by factors other than a desire to force [Mid-Atlantic Sports Network] out of business or discourage [Mid-Atlantic Sports Network] from entering the market." Therefore, we find that Mid-Atlantic Sports Network has failed to show how such legitimate business decisions harm competition or consumers."

MASN issued this statement in reaction to the Fourth Circuit ruling: "We're disappointed by the Fourth Circuit's decision, which upholds the FCC's order reversing the decisions of two independent arbitrators and the FCC's Media Bureau that had ruled in MASN's favor. We will continue to explore ways to bring our exciting lineup of live sports action to Time Warner Cable's subscribers in North Carolina. Viewers in North Carolina who want to watch MASN's programming can find it on DirecTV, Dish, Charter, Mediacom, M I Connection, Tri-County Cable, Randolph TV, Sky Best, Fibrant, Reds Cable, and Salem TV."

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