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Rift lingers between Dish Network, MSG

Nearly six weeks into a dispute that's kept the broadcasts of Sabres games out of some Western New York homes, Dish Network and Madison Square Garden Networks are standing their ground.

And that ground still seems quite a distance apart.

The MSG and MSG Plus channels haven't been seen on the satellite provider since Oct. 1, when an agreement between the two parties expired.

In recent weeks, MSG representatives had claimed Dish Network officials weren't really serious about negotiating.

Today, both sides painted similar -- and dreary -- pictures of the situation, with different explanations for why there has been no resolution.

In an e-mail this morning, a Dish Network spokesperson said: "We continue to negotiate with MSG for return of their channels. We are hopeful we can reach a fair agreement."

This afternoon, after the company was sent a copy of a statement issued by MSG, the Dish spokesperson claimed MSG has been unwilling "to engage in good faith [negotiations]."

"DISH Network has offered multiple times to talk and meet with MSG regarding their channels," a spokesperson said in an e-mail. "However, MSG has told us that their offer was 'take it or leave it.' "

But an MSG spokesman today said it's Dish Network that doesn't feel like talking.

“MSG has been attempting to engage Dish Network in good faith negotiations since early this year. However, they have refused to have any meaningful dialogue with us since they dropped our networks on October 1st," spokesman Dan Schoenberg said in an e-mail. "Sabres fans have already missed 16 games on MSG, as well as seven Knicks games, with no end in sight."

According to Dish Network, part of the dispute related to a push for them to carry Fuse, a music channel owned by MSG. MSG officials have previously said that is not an issue here.

MSG again today said the dispute is not about Fuse.

"Every other operator is paying fair market rates, while they seek some sort of special treatment," Dan Ronayne, executive vice president and general manager of MSG Networks, said in a statement this afternoon. "That is the reason there have been no meaningful discussions and why we continue to urge fans to switch distributors to watch the games."

Last month, the parties jointly filed for and received an order from the Federal Communications Commission allowing both to keep some information used in negotiations hidden from the public.

When asked how common it is for them to seek a protective order from federal regulators when negotiating, Dish Network says it decides on a case-by-case basis.

Michael Gilbert, director of public relations for the Sabres, today said the organization is still encouraging fans who have Dish Network to switch to another carrier. The team is not involved in the negotiations between MSG and Dish Network, he said.

At the end of October, Dish Network and News Corp. reached an agreement over the broadcast of 19 sports channels.

--Aaron Besecker

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