FCC endorses cable a la carte

February 13, 2006

As expected, the FCC, under chairman Kevin Martin turned the tables on cable à la carte, contending that most cable television customers would save money if allowed to pay for only the channels they want to watch.

That finding comes from a new FCC report released last week. It reverses a finding under Michael Powell’s leadership at the commission. The Powell FCC determined à la carte would result in higher subscription costs. Martin said that the earlier report was flawed.

The new FCC research said cable subscribers would save as much as 13 percent on their cable bills if they could buy only the channels they wanted instead of being forced to pay for hundreds of them. The average household, the commission said, watches only 17 channels.

The cable industry protested the findings of the report, while consumer advocates and congressional supporters praised it. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a congressional supporter of à la carte, announced he would introduce legislation this week to require channel choice.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), the cable industry trade group, protested the finding saying that "is disappointing that the updated report relies on assumptions that are not in line with the reality of the marketplace."

Cable programmers argue that selling bundles of channels allows them to produce a greater variety of programming. If subscribers were allowed to pick only the channels they wanted, the industry said many programs that have small but dedicated followings would have to be shut down.

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