Lawmakers Fret Over Potential Super Bowl Blackout in Boston

DirecTV, Sunbeam urged to put aside differences for big game

The potential blackout of the Super Bowl on DirecTV in Boston has got lawmakers fretting and dashing off letters. Both U.S. senators from Massachusetts, Scott Brown (R) and John Kerry (D), concerned that their constituents have become collateral damage in a business negotiation, sent letters to DirecTV and Sunbeam Television. The state's 10 congressmen also sent a letter.

In the letters, lawmakers urge the two companies to put aside their differences and clear the Super Bowl broadcast on Feb. 5 between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants, which airs on Sunbeam's NBC affiliate in Boston, WHDH.

Since Jan. 14, DirecTV and Sunbeam have been unable to come to a carriage agreement, forcing DirecTV to black out WHDH as well as WLVI, The CW affiliate in Boston, and WSVN, the Fox affiliate in Miami.

If the two remain at loggerheads, about 200,000 DirecTV subscribers in Boston will be unable to watch the biggest sporting event of the year.

Kerry, who has sent letters to the Federal Communications Commission urging it to intervene in other disputes, called the possibility of a Super Bowl blackout "unthinkable."

"If people in Boston miss the Super Bowl this year because of this dispute, I can assure you that it will lead more and more people to throw up their hands and say, 'A pox upon both of their houses,'" Kerry wrote to Ed Ansin, president of Sunbeam, and Michael White, chairman, president and CEO of DirecTV.

The two companies showed some willingness to work together when WSVN allowed DirecTV to carry the NFC championship game between the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers last weekend as a service to 270,000 DirecTV subscribers.

But despite that reprieve, there was no indication from either company that a deal was imminent. If past retransmission standoffs are any indication, chances are this negotiation will go down to the wire.

Pressured by Kerry and others, the FCC opened rulemaking on retransmission negotiations last fall. But because of the FCC's limited authority to directly prevent blackouts, the process avoided proposing drastic measures such as compelling stations to allow carriage of signals when parties cannot agree on a deal or compelling binding arbitration.

"This is not the first retransmission consent dispute we have witnessed over the last few years, and without fixes to the process, I expect it will not be the last," wrote Kerry.