City Council Committee pushes for end to Padres TV dispute

Fox Sports SD, Time Warner Cable may meet soon

SAN DIEGO - Representatives of Fox Sports San Diego and Time Warner Cable said Thursday that negotiators in the dispute over carrying Padres games may meet next week in New York in an attempt to seek a resolution.

Their comments came at the end of a two-hour hearing of the San Diego City Council's Rules and Economic Development Committee, which was prompted by complaints from Time Warner customers that they were about to embark on a second season of not being able to watch Padres contests.

"I'm not going to miss another Padres season," one fan said at Thursday's public hearing.

"Last year was ridiculous, you know, not being able to watch them," said another fan.

Fox Sports opened its San Diego outlet last year and won broadcast rights for the hometown team, but has not been able to get the channel placed on Time Warner Cable. The cable provider serves 22 percent of the local market in neighborhoods north of Interstate 8 via a franchise agreement with the city.

"I will note for this committee and our neighbors that here in San Diego, we have offered Time Warner Cable fair market terms and conditions that other leading providers have agreed to," said Henry Ford, senior vice president and general manager of FSSD. "Time Warner Cable is not being asked to pay more than anyone else."

Fox Sports San Diego can be seen on Cox Cable, AT&T U-Verse, or satellite carriers.

Deane Leavenworth, a vice president of external affairs for Time Warner, told the committee members that his company would carry the channel if it was offered at a fair price. However, in the current competitive marketplace, what might be good for other service providers might not work for Time Warner, he said.

He said his company conducted a survey that found most customers were unwilling to pay higher rates so they could watch the Padres.

"It's not always apples to apples," said Leavenworth, who added Fox's asking price was unreasonably high. "We must offer our customers and potential customers quality programming at the most reasonable prices possible including customers who are not baseball fans."

In a recent scientific 10News poll http://www.surveyusa.com/client/PollReport.aspx?g=382513a1-ae6d-4116-80e2-9c4a2e64277e&c=37, 86 percent of respondents said they would not pay a higher cable bill to watch Padres games.

Councilman David Alvarez twice asked for five-minute breaks to allow Ford and Leavenworth to call their negotiating teams and have them arrange meetings. The second time, they learned their representatives would be in New York at the same time.

"We want you to meet -- we want you to have an agreement," Alvarez said. "There's a lot of people who can't go to the games, who can't go to Petco Park, and they have to watch on TV, and it's those people who are affected the most."

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said the city, thanks to recent court decisions, cannot mandate that cable franchisees carry certain channels, and cannot regulate cable rates. However, under the franchise agreement, the city can examine Time Warner's records on its operations.

Councilwoman Marti Emerald asked Goldsmith to work with Mayor Bob Filner to gain access to the records.

"I'm not holding my breath on an agreement," Emerald said.

In remarks to the committee, the mayor offered to mediate the dispute, but also said he would encourage Time Warner customers to change services if an agreement isn't reached.

He said Time Warner's refusal to meet the market price is an "insult" to the people of San Diego.

"Time Warner has a monopoly over a large part of the city and refuses to provide that service, to me, is outrageous," said Filner. "As the mayor, I will try to take every step I can to help them express both the anger and the actions."

An email address was set up for Padres fans in the Time Warner service area to vent their frustration, and lodge their intention to change services. The address is gopadres@sandiego.gov.

The committee approved a resolution offered by Chairwoman Sherri Lightner calling for the two sides to find a resolution. Committee members Kevin Faulconer and Mark Kersey did not attend. Representatives for both said they had previously scheduled meetings.

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