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Dish Network vs. Comcast: Dish Decides To Take Its Ball And Go Home (UPDATED)

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For San Jose Sharks and Oakland Athletics fans, a developing in a brewing battle between Dish Network and Comcast SportsNet is going to cost Dish customers much needed coverage of both teams. After an arbitration decision yesterday ruled in favor of Comcast against Dish Network, Dish decided to drop Comcast SportsNet California from its lineup of channels.

Dish Network is allowed to take CSN to federal arbitration because to a condition placed on Comcast's 2006 acquisition of Adelphia Communications Corp., which allows a distributor like Dish to ask an FCC-mandated arbitrator to settle any pricing dispute. Dish was apparently unhappy with recent price increases for the regional sports networks and sought arbitration, which is perfectly within their right. The problem that is now developing is that upon losing that arbitration they've decided the rules should not apply to them. As the title indicates, they've taken their ball and decided to go home.

Tonight the San Jose Sharks are hosting the Chicago Blackhawks in a rematch of last year's conference finals in which San Jose was swept in four games. It's a key matchup and thanks to the obstinence of Dish Network, hundreds of thousands of people will not be able to watch the game on Comcast California. Comcast California released this statement:

"EchoStar's Dish Network has disregarded the FCC arbitration process and turned its back on its own customers by unilaterally dropping Comcast SportsNet California. After losing the arbitration that they themselves initiated, Dish Network decided to deny fans access to this network rather than accept the outcome of the arbitration. We hope that Dish will quickly realize that refusing to accept the arbitration decision is detrimental to consumers, and restore Comcast SportsNet California under the contract decided by the arbitrator."

The issue that is kind of ridiculous is that Dish had a process in place and now they are electing to say the process shouldn't apply in this instance. Whether they think the prices are fair or not, the arbitrator made their decision and Dish Network should abide by it. Dish released their own statement that really doesn't address the issue:

"DishNetwork has been unable to reach a fair agreement for continued carriage of Comcast SportsNet California, which is owned by our largest cable competitor in the market, Comcast. We continue to negotiate with Comcast and are hopeful we will be able to reach a fair deal."

The way I read that statement, it's like me asking them why they aren't abiding by the arbitration agreement and they respond with "Because!" It's the logic of a five year old. They've upped the PR ante by creating a site called Fair Deal For You. The problem is that the site does not provide any information that is more than PR fluff. I emailed the address they provided (president@dishnetwork.com) asking why they decided not to abide by the arbitration decision. I'm curious to see if I get any sort of response.

In the meantime, if you're trying to find the Sharks game tonight on Dish Network, it won't be available through CSN California. However, the NHL Network is airing the game as well. I'm not sure if Dish Network carries the NHL Network, and even if it does, it's possible the game will just be blacked out. I'd recommend checking your Dish listings to see if you can view.

Editor's Update: Dish Network has released a second statement with a few more details:

"Plain and simple, Comcast has joined the long line of programmers making unprecedented carriage demands for their channels - in this case, Comcast SportsNet California. The fact is, DISH Network has agreed to pay Comcast its requested price per subscriber for CSN California because we want to make this channel available to the customers who value its programming. However, Comcast is demanding that ALL DISH Network customers in the market pay for the channel, even if they don't want it.

Comcast is our largest cable competitor, which we believe prevents them from offering DISH Network a fair deal. If we accept Comcast's demands, it will embolden the company to continue to make outrageous demands for its other channels. In addition, Comcast's tactics should give the industry pause, particularly as it seeks to substantially expand its market power through a merger with NBC Universal. The combination of Comcast's distribution network with NBCU's expansive programming holdings could very well result in the most anti-consumer media conglomerate ever created."

It's certainly becoming a see-saw PR battle at this point. I'm doing some more research into the arbitration issues involved and will try and update this as more information becomes available.

Editor's Update # 2: I'm trying to figure out some of the arbitration rules in place for this whole dispute, but in the meantime, CSN had a response to Dish Network's statement mention in the first editor's update above:

"The major problem with Dish's position is that these are the very same arguments it made to an FCC arbitrator in an arbitration process that it and others requested and that it voluntarily opted into. After analyzing Dish's arguments, and Comcast SportsNet's responses, the independent and expert arbitrator rejected Dish's position and decided that the contract terms submitted by Comcast SportsNet represented the fair market value of the network. Dish's overblown and exaggerated arguments are no more accurate today than when they were rejected by the FCC arbitrator."

The world of television and cable has always been a bit confusing to me. Due to my current living situation I am not allowed to get a satellite dish, so I basically have to go with Comcast as my cable company, thus putting them in a sort of monopoly against me. However, aside from not letting me have ESPNU on my digital starter package, they've generally worked out ok.

Let's hope that Dish and Comcast's regional sports networks can work this out so that Sharks fans using Dish can get Sharks games back in their lineup. After all, at the end of the day these companies are supposed to be serving the customer and as long as the bickering continues the customer is the one getting hosed.