A second arbitrator has found that Time Warner discriminated against the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network and has told the nation's second largest cable operator to start carrying the regional sports network on its North Carolina system.
That's according to MASN spokesman Todd Webster, who said that Time Warner has the option of appealing the decision, but said MASN expected that any future review "would come to the same conclusion."
An earlier arbitrator had found against Time Warner as well, but had not gotten around to deciding between each side's best offer before being removed from the case by the American Arbitration Association.
A Time Warner spokesman had not returned a call for comment on whether Time Warner would appeal the decision, though it is likely.
In granting Time Warner's and Comcast's bid to divvy up Adelphia Communications’ cable systems back in 2005, the FCC required that they submit to arbitration if negotiations with an unaffiliated RSN, like MASN, reached an impasse.
A Time Warner spokesman was not available to comment on whether the company would appeal the ruling, but Time Warner has said that it was willing to talk about putting the network on a sports tier but not on basic because, according to a Time Warner executive at the time, “the programming is of little or no interest to our customers in North Carolina.”
Cable operators have been caught between a regulatory rock and a hard place. Operators have been under pressure from the FCC and legislators not to deny must-have programming, like college and pro sports, to fans used to getting it over the air or on basic cable. But at the same time, regulators and legislators have complained about soaring cable prices, which cable operators point out are linked to programming costs.
In September, MASN got some backing from the mayors of Raleigh and Durham, N.C., who wrote identical letters to Time Warner asking them to carry the network on the basic tier. MASN even got support from the managers of the Durham Bulls and Carolina Mudcats minor-league-baseball teams.