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In spring testimony before the House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said he supported an à la carte model for cable consumers. Yet, Martin claimed his hands were tied because Congress first needs to change the rules.

So, our fearless chairman has decided that while he supports à la carte, he can’t implement à la carte. And why not? Because he believes it would require Congress to first change the rules. What a cop out.

Not surprisingly, cable’s mouthpiece, NCTA vice president of communications Brian Dietz, chimed in that à la carte would merely reduce viewers’ options while increasing their costs. Besides, à la carte would discriminate against programming for minorities and women, he added.

This was so predictable. Whenever some realist suggests that the cost of cable could be reduced through à la carte, the NCTA counters that if people watched fewer channels, they’d have to pay more.

To support the organization’s self-serving justification, the NCTA trots out the same old, tired activists from the NAACP, NOW and other minority groups who shriek — on cue — of the wanton discrimination and victimization they’d suffer if à la carte were allowed to happen.

Speaking for the National Hispanic Media Coalition, its president and CEO Alex Nogales claimed “…à la carte pricing, could squeeze out of the marketplace the next generation of minority programmers and networks.” For the record, this is the same guy who wants the government to give spectrum auction money to minorities and women so they don’t have to compete on equal footing with other broadcasters.

Maybe Nogales and Dietz haven’t heard about BET, Oxygen, Lifetime, Logo or a whole list of other minority-focused channels. The BET channel defines itself as “the leading provider of media and entertainment for African Americans and consumers of Black culture globally.” Last time I checked, BET was run by Debra L. Lee, a highly regarded African-American woman.

The Oxygen channel says it’s on a “mission to bring women (and the men who love them) the edgiest, most innovative entertainment on television.” It is run by chairwoman and CEO Geraldine Laybourne. I’ve been to Oxygen’s headquarters and seen its female-focused programming.

There are plenty of other “focused” channels that compete without needing government support.

Suppose this requirement for bundling applied to everyday products, such as TV sets. You go into Circuit City to buy a new television. After selecting the model you want, the salesperson says, “Along with this nice new TV, you also have to buy this outside antenna, a 50ft mast and 200ft of coax for only $200.”

You reply, “I don’t want any of it. I’m just going to hook this TV to my satellite system.” The seller replies, “I’m sorry. Everyone who buys a new TV set also buy these other items, even if you’ll never use them. We call this bundled packaging.”

As you try to object, the salesperson says, “We can’t allow à al carte DTV sales because without bundled packaging, no one would buy these products made by left-handed Armenia-Turkestans. We realize you’ll never use these extra items, but won’t you feel better knowing you’ve helped this minority business?”

What happened to free enterprise where competition is good for the consumer?

Woops, I almost forgot, free enterprise doesn’t apply to cable TV because for most viewers, there is no competition. Most would call that a monopoly. Cable just calls it business.