Cable companies are still giving football fans the straight arm

    It’s a rough month to be a football fan for many people in Wisconsin. On Aug. 30, the Wisconsin Badgers will kick off their 2008 campaign with a home game against Akron, but for most people in the state, the season won’t start until two weeks later.

    That’s because the first two games on the Badgers schedule – against Akron and at home to Marshall on Sept. 6 – are being shown on the Big Ten Network, which still isn’t offered by the state’s biggest cable providers. 

    But the pain doesn’t stop there for Wisconsin football fans. The Jets/Redskins game on Aug. 16 – Brett Favre’s first start for New York – was broadcast on the NFL Network.  Unfortunately, cable subscribers who were looking forward to seeing how Brett did with his new team were probably disappointed, because the NFL Network also isn’t offered by either Charter or Time Warner.

    Sadly, this isn’t a new problem for cable customers. In 2007, five of the Badgers’ 12 regular season games were broadcast on the Big Ten Network, and the Packers’ Nov. 29 meeting with Dallas was broadcast on the NFL Network.

    Yet despite the public outcry, neither Charter nor Time Warner have added the two sports networks to their lineup.

    Why? Up until recently, Charter and Time Warner have enjoyed monopolies over their respective service areas. With no competition, the companies have been free to raise prices and offer minimal customer service with virtually no repercussions.  So while consumers may be irate about not being able to watch the football they want to see, they have had no real alternatives for cable services.

    Thankfully, since the passage of the Video Competition Act late last year, a number of new cable providers have moved into or expanded their services in Wisconsin. 

    In all, 14 providers have applied for, and received, statewide video franchise permits, and many offer the Big Ten Network and NFL Network as part of their service packages. As new infrastructure is put in place and competition continues to spread, more and more Wisconsin residents are getting a real choice in cable providers.

    Ultimately, increased competition will give consumers the option of choosing providers offering the channels they want to see – whether from the incumbent providers Time Warner or Charter or from any of the new entrants into the market. 

    But until the benefits of competition reach everyone in Wisconsin, it’s going to be like 2007 all over again for the Badger fans and Brett Favre fans alike.

    Thad Nation is the executive director of TV4US Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization advocating for increased cable competition in Wisconsin. Additional information is available at www.wewantchoicewi.com.

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