Congressional powerhouse eyes Big Ten Network access

Michigan congressman John Dingell, Democrat chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has turned his eye toward Big Ten sporting events.

Dingell, a proponent of free over-the-air television, is worried that access to sporting events is disappearing for those who can’t afford rising subscription fees. He recently expressed concern about the ability of fans to access Big Ten sporting events after the debut of a new TV network this summer.

In a letter to Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, Dingell said many of his constituents had expressed worries about being able to watch University of Michigan football games this season because none of the state’s cable systems carried the network.

Dingell asked Delany about the status of negotiations with cable systems — whether they would be concluded before football season — and how the conference reached the per-household monthly rate it plans to charge cable systems.

The congressman, whose committee has jurisdiction over all telecommunications, noted that all 13 of Michigan’s football games last season were shown on either free, over-the-air broadcast or on cable channels widely available to subscribers. Requesting details for each school, he asked how many of the games will be on free or basic cable TV.

The free broadcasts of football and basketball games might not make the most money for the conference, Dingell added, “but they enable the taxpayer the ability to enjoy what their money has provided.”

The Associated Press reported that Delany said, “seeing 35 football games, 105 basketball games, more women’s sports and more Olympic sports on the first major college conference sports network is a win-win for everyone.”

Jeff Smith, a Big Ten spokesman, told the AP that the conference expects to request $1.10 per household per month from cable systems within the eight states that comprise the conference, and about 10 cents per month outside the Big Ten region.

The Big Ten and Comcast have been at odds over the price of the new network and whether it should be offered on basic cable. The network has agreements with about 40 smaller cable companies, the AP reported, but not Comcast, which has 5.7 million subscribers in the eight states with Big Ten schools.

The Big Ten Network, based in Chicago and co-owned by the conference and FOX Sports, plans to show all the conference’s football games that aren’t broadcast elsewhere.