Echostar, which owns Dish Network, is asking the Federal Communications Commission to declare that the Big Ten Network is a "regional sports network" (RSN). The significance of this designation is that under the terms of a 2004 FCC order, the BTN would be forced into arbitration to determine a fair price for carrying the network. The 2004 order related to Rupert Murdoch's huge market presence. Murdoch's Newscorp owns DirecTV, numerous Fox television stations, various RSNs, and ten cable networks, and the arbitration provisions were a condition of the company's acquisition of DirecTV. Neither article sheds much light on the definition of a RSN. I have a busy day, but perhaps tonight I will try to track down the FCC order.
EDIT: Until I get a look at that order, I'm basically talking out my posterior, but it does seem to me that a fundamental distinction between the BTN and a RSN is that the BTN is making all of its programming available nationally, even if the primary interest in that program is in the eight state Big Ten region. For stupid MLB blackout reasons, I subscribe to the DirecTV Sports Pack, which gives me access to all of the nation's RSNs. I'm able to watch the Cubs (and White Sox, I guess) on Comcast Sports Net Chicago, the Reds on FSN Ohio, and the Pacers, but otherwise, the RSNs are useless. The MLB , NBA, and NHL games, the RSNs' primary reasons for existing, are governed by the particular sport's blackout rules. So, while the appeal of the BTN unquestionably is higher in a particular part of the country, the BTN's programming, other than the occasional regionalized football/basketball coverage, will not vary by region. I don't know if that is a meaningful distinction, but it is a distinction.