Showdown over NFL Network?

Expect the contrived controversy over cable carriage of the NFL Network to intensify this week as the FCC meets to push for greater regulation of cable. As pro football fans know, the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers, who share National Football Conference-best records of 10-1, will play Thursday night. The game will be nationally televised over the fledgling NFL Network, a cable channel owned by the National Football League itself, and ratings of which the NFL is trying to boost by using it to air a slate of eight Thursday and Saturday night games this season. (Games will be available on free TV in their local markets.) Trouble is, the major cable companies, including Comcast and Time Warner, have elected to make the NFL Network available only as part of a higher priced sports tier, not part of the “expanded basic” packages that generally include CNN, ESPN, TNT, Nickelodeon and dozens of other cable channels. In a case that could only happen because of the legacy of telecommunications as a regulated industry, the NFL has complained about this choice to the FCC. Worse, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin seems willing to give the league a hearing.