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Congress Pushes Cable a la carte

Despite all efforts on behalf of the cable industry to derail the a la carte train, members of Congress are pushing for an FCC investigation into the issue.

Four senior members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet have asked FCC Chairman Michael Powell to conduct a study on cable a la carte, which would allow cable viewers to cherrypick cable programming instead of the bundled packages the industry now offers.

In a letter signed by Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX), Ranking Committee Member John Dingell (D-MI), Fred Upton (R-MI), chairman of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet and Edward Markey (D-MA), Ranking Member of the Committee, the commission was asked to submit a report to Congress answering questions on how the implementation of a la carte would affect cable rates and its impact on small rural markets.

Specifically, Congress wants to know the statutory and technical limitations on cable operators' ability to purchase channels on a standalone basis and whether satellite should be treated in a similar manner. The letter also asked whether multichannel programming distributors (MPVDs) have the ability to offer a la carte and themed tier service in addition to basic and expanded basic services and how a la carte would affect a cable network's ability to attract ad revenues and subscriber fees.

Requesting the report by mid-November, the Congressmen told Powell that "as the members of the Committee have discussed these issues, some have indicated that they do not have sufficient information to make an informed decision on the potential merits and drawbacks of proposals which would allow multichannel video programming distributors to offer programming to their consumers on an a la cart or themed tier basis,"

Been there, done that, was cable's response.

"As the General Accounting Office (GAO) has found, 'a la carte' pricing would likely lead to a choice of fewer cable channels at higher prices for consumers," NCTA said. "The economic facts have not changed over the six months since GAO issued its comprehensive study. We believe that an FCC study would further confirm that 'a la carte' pricing would be very harmful to ad-supported cable networks and consumers by reducing programming diversity and driving up the cost of cable and satellite television."