- The Washington Times - Friday, July 29, 2005

DirecTV officials yesterday cheered the legal defeat of industry rival Comcast Corp. in Montgomery County Circuit Court and scored a timely opportunity to brag about its carriage of the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN).

Playing host to a Washington Nationals viewing party on Capitol Hill yesterday, DirecTV was all too happy to see the Baltimore Orioles prevail Wednesday in their attempt to dismiss a Comcast breach of contract lawsuit filed against the team. Though yesterday’s party was planned before the court ruled in favor the Orioles, it provided another chance to tell Congress it is DirecTV, not Comcast, that is showing MASN and the Nationals games it produces.

Comcast — which claims the deal to put the Orioles and Nationals together under the MASN umbrella violates its television contract with Baltimore — refuses to put MASN on its cable systems while the power struggle continues.

“Consumers should be able to see their home team,” said Susan Eid, DirecTV vice president of government relations. “We’ve stepped up to the plate, and we think it’s very important to show to the members of Congress we’ve made this team available.

“More broadly, this [Comcast lawsuit] highlights the bottleneck we see forming with the cable companies and how they are treating regional sports networks,” Eid said.

DirecTV’s anti-Comcast stance is hardly surprising. The company last week wrote the Federal Communications Commission, asking for restrictions to be placed on a planned purchase of Adelphia Communications’ cable assets by Comcast and Time Warner. DirecTV argued the impending deal would stifle marketplace competition and price regional sports networks controlled by the cable companies out of reach to satellite TV providers.

Meanwhile, Comcast attorneys yesterday began to sift through transcripts of the legal defeat in Montgomery County and conferred on their potential next steps. No formal response of any type is expected until at least next week. But in the meantime, Comcast’s refusal to carry MASN remains.

“As we have said, we have no plans to carry MASN in part because we believe that it is a network operating illegally and in breach of contract,” said David Cohen, Comcast executive vice president.

As a result, it is increasingly unlikely Comcast will make a deal with MASN before the end of the baseball season. Durke Thompson, the Montgomery County Circuit Court judge who dismissed the Comcast suit Wednesday, allowed Comcast to file within 30 days an amended complaint on one purported count of breach of contract. Comcast attorneys have not yet decided whether to take that route or simply appeal Thompson’s ruling. But the intention to keep fighting has not been muted.

Rep. Tom Davis, Virginia Republican, yesterday blasted Comcast’s refusal to carry MASN and make the Nationals more broadly available. The outspoken Congressman expressed little love for the Orioles either. But the Orioles have offered Comcast the same terms for a carriage deal for MASN as held by DirecTV and RCN Cable, or they will bring in an independent arbitrator to set the monetary terms.

“This whole thing is incredibly unfortunate. Nobody is thinking about the fans,” Davis said. “I just want to get the games on TV. Nobody makes any money if they don’t get on.”

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