US Media Regulator Revisits A la Carte Cable Plan

12 September 2007

WASHINGTON DC: US media watchdog, the Federal Communications Commission, may decide to outlaw the practice of 'tying' cable television channels in favor of an a la carte model that would allow viewers to choose and pay only for the channels they want to see.

Tying forces cable consumers to take new or less popular channels as part of a bundle with essentials such as ESPN or CBS.

Therefore, says FCC chairman Kevin Martin, cable customers end up having "to pay higher rates for a bunch of channels they may not want or watch".

He says the ban on bundling would force programmers to sell channels individually. "You can't tie the channel in any way...If you only want one channel, you shouldn't have to take 10 or 20."

Martin hopes an end to tying would help cable operators better control the increases in costs they pass on to consumers.

The FCC has previously looked at a la carte cable TV as a way of giving parents more control over what their children see.

At the time cable companies were vehemently opposed to such legislation, claiming it would lessen choice and hike costs for consumers, notwithstanding the violation of free speech principles.

However, Matt Polka, president of the American Cable Association now comments: "At a time when [consumers] are screaming for choice, there is none, largely because of consolidation and control of content."

He points out that cable operators are required to carry all local TV stations, but federal rules allow broadcasters to decide on how they are paid: cash or carriage of their company's cable channels.

Polka claims programmers set the cash price at such a level that operators are left with little choice but to agree to carriage of unwanted channels.

He adds that with limited capacity in the cable wire "the more space that gets taken away for mandated video carriage, the less room there is for other services", such as broadband.

Data sourced from USA; additional content by WARC staff