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The Butler Did It

Thanks, Cablevision. Thanks, Time Warner.You won't get to see the Mets struggle down the stretch, not make the playoffs again. You won't be able to see the Rangers - or the Islanders or Devils, for that matter - but then again, there isn't likely to be a hockey season with a lockout imminent. And you'll miss the new-look New York Knicks, which somehow manage to play a lot like the old-look Knicks. MetroStars and Liberty fans? Sorry, you're especially screwed because you can't even listen to your team on the radio - unless you speak Spanish, in which case you can hear the MetroStars.The Fox Sports New York/Madison Square Garden/Metro Channel blackout on Time Warner Cable is into its second week with no signs of letup. Instead, when 2.4 million cable subscribers tune to those three channels, they get a reassuring message from Time Warner."We've gone to bat for our customers to bring you MSG and Fox Sports New York, but Cablevision has refused to extend our licensing agreement to carry these sports channels, demanding unprecedented fees, and has broken off negotiations," it says. "We continue to press Cablevision to return the channels to your lineup, but so far they have refused."But don't fret, Mets fans, you can listen to your team on WFAN radio, instead, and get to pocket two whole dollars every month from Time Warner, just to ease the pain a bit.Aren't they just the best?This is the same Time Warner that cut ABC four years ago in a dispute with the Walt Disney Co. That blackout ended quickly, though, when Time Warner was found to have violated federal communications law.Time Warner says that the programming on MSG and Fox Sports New York has diminished in value in recent years. (Um, yeah. Have you seen any of those teams lately?) And it refuses to pay additional fees - reportedly an 18 percent increase for the three channels - that Cablevision is demanding (what, "I, Max" and "The Best Damn Sports Show, Period" aren't worth the extra dough?).And Cablevision is no innocent, either.The same Cablevision owned by James Dolan that refused to carry the YES network two years ago when it said the channel was too expensive to carry on its system is now asking for more money for MSG and Fox Sports New York. Let me see, when it's not Dolan who stands to profit then it's too expensive, but when he is attempting to set the rates and Time Warner refuses, then Time Warner is engaging in "outrageous anti-consumer behavior," according to a statement released by Cablevision. Sounds like double talk to me. This is also the same Cablevision that Mets owner, Fred Wilpon, who has been the butt of a multitude of jokes on sports talk radio for not spending money for players, paid $54 million to in June to get out of an agreement with MSG/Fox Sports New York after the 2005 season. If Time Warner thinks the programming has diminished in value in recent years, wait until the Mets aren't playing 100 games a year on those two channels.So who wins here? The same people who won in 2002 when the Yankees were blacked out for the 3 million Cablevision subscribers -the satellite providers.Almost immediately DirecTV, which is the only satellite provider to carry the YES network, began advertising in several daily newspapers in New York state last week in an effort to attract Mets fans.Referring to new Mets pitcher Victor Zambrano, the ads read: "Mets vs. Brewers: Zambrano debuts. Read about it tomorrow because you won't see it on Time Warner Cable!"But even if you throw your cable television out the window for DirecTV or another satellite provider, Cablevision and Time Warner are still going to make millions and are still not going to care less about the common sports fans.So what's a Met fan to do? Maybe my friend Jack Flynn has the right idea."I listen to the Mets on the radio," he said. "I'll do the same with any other team on MSG/FSNY. They're garbage stations anyway."Reach Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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