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Boro councilman eyes cable firms

State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and state Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn) announced legislation Saturday that would slap Cablevision and Time Warner with a 10-cent-a-customer fine for every day the games are unavailable. The fines would add up to $240,000 a day, $14.4 million a month and $86.4 million for the duration of the six-month baseball season. The payments would be passed onto subscribers as a $6 discount on their monthly cable bills, Gianaris said. "This is something that has been a very big source of frustration for a lot of people," said Gianaris, who has 125,000 constituents just west of Shea Stadium. "From what I understand the two sides are barely even talking to each other. These cable companies are essentially monopolies. Someone needs to step forward and protect the public."For more than a month, the companies have been haggling over a deal on fees resulting in Time Warner's refusal to carry the Cablevision-owned Madison Square Garden Network and Fox Sports New York, stations that televise the bulk of Mets games. It has been reported that Cablevision is seeking a hike of as much as 30 percent in the fee it charges Time Warner to carry the stations. Gianaris said the feud has been especially frustrating to fans because the Mets - armed with a new manager and super star pitcher Pedro Martinez - have one of the best lineups in recent memory. "They have a really exciting team this year that's playing really well," Gianaris said. "It only adds insult to injury when you realize that you can't have access to watch the games."The assemblyman introduced the bill this week and said he will work to get it passed before the legislature breaks on June 23. "No Pedro, no Piazza, no Beltran, no Mets on Time Warner cable in 2005 unless we act quickly to pass this bill," Golden said. "This is a major consumer protection issue for subscribers of Time Warner Cable and Mets fans throughout the state of New York because there is really no other good alternative to watch one of the best seasons in Mets history."The legislation marks the second effort on behalf of elected officials to end the dispute. The City Council subcommittee on zoning and franchises - chaired by City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) - has held two hearings on the issue. At Tuesday's hearing, Avella said the companies said they were in negotiations. The councilman said public pressure is the only way to get the cable giants to speed up a deal because of restrictions under federal law that limit government control over broadcasting content. That is why he lauded the spirit of Gianaris' effort but had reservations."I don't know where the legal authority comes to actually apply that law," Avella said. Reach reporter Matthew Monks at news@timesledger.com or 718-229-0300, Ext. 156

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