NFL officials want cable systems to offer their network on standard cable packages so more people can watch the games and highlights the network carries. They said Time Warner Cable and other providers are discriminating against the network in favor of channels owned by the cable companies.
"I don't believe the cable companies are paying attention to what the consumers want," Carolina Panthers President Mark Richardson told members of the Joint Legislative Utility Review Committee. "We're asking for a process – a neutral arbitrator – (to) let someone else decide what's fair."
Without a cable offering, viewers have to get satellite TV to see the games the NFL Network offers, officials said. The Panthers don't play in any of the eight games scheduled to air exclusively on the network next fall, although popular teams like the New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers do play in some.
"It's the fans who lose," NFL Senior Vice President Frank Hawkins said.
Cable operators countered that the NFL Network should be part of a sports package that carries a higher monthly price or be offered on a pay-per-view basis. They said viewers should decide whether to pay more for the channel, noting standard cable rates would have to go up if the NFL Network was added to that lineup.
"I just don't believe the government (should be) telling us what kind of programming we should buy. That should be (up to) our customers," said Frank Styers, owner of Red's Cable in Farmville.
The cable operators also said the NFL isn't going through the proper channels to air its grievances. The issue should be presented to the Federal Communications Commission, but the network wants state lawmakers to enforce arbitration on the two sides.
"The fact the NFL Network hasn't gotten everything it wants the way it wants it when it wants it doesn't mean the marketplace is not working," said Mark Prak, of the North Carolina Cable Telecommunications Association.
"I'm reluctant to step in, but we will move if we need to," said state Rep. Drew Saunders, D-Mecklenburg.
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