US media regulator, the Federal Communications Commission, has dealt a hammer blow to the nation's cable providers.

In a tight U-turn, the FCC, under the leadership of Republican Kevin Martin, has concluded that cable subscribers should be able to pick and choose which channels they receive, in bid to keep unsuitable or indecent programs out of family viewing.

Last year an FCC report found that an a la carte system, as opposed to the bundle of channels most people now receive, would increase costs for the consumer.

A soon-to-be completed survey has suddenly found that a la carte programming would, in fact, be "economically feasible", Martin told the Open Forum on Decency, held by Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens.

The FCC chairman, who took up his post in March, added: "The industry needs to do more to address parents' legitimate concerns. You can always turn the television off and . . . block the channels you don't want. But why should you have to?"

Martin's comments have drawn sharp criticism from the National Cable Television Association, which argues that technology which allows parents to block channels is the best solution.

Association president Kyle McSlarrow says a la carte is a "very dangerous idea" which would decrease consumer choice, make cable companies' revenues unpredictable and would violate their free speech rights. He has pledged vigorous legal opposition by the industry.

The US Congress is currently debating tough new indecency legislation that would dramatically boost fines for television networks which violate the rules. Current FCC regulations do not apply to cable TV.

Data sourced from Adweek (USA); additional content by WARC staff