FCC favours a la carte choice to consumers on cable

MUMBAI: Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Kevin J Martin favours programming network on an a la carte basis and digital must-carry at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association‘s (NCTA) annual convention in Las Vegas on Monday.

A la carte service would offer the customer the choice to purchase the channels that they want when they subscribe to cable.


Martin felt the issue was increasingly important since the price for "expanded basic" cable has doubled since 1996. The cable industry opposes a la carte because it says it would limit diversity, reduce viewing choices, and increase consumer costs.

The FCC commissioner supported the digital transition because the broadcasters say the channels aren‘t viable without cable carriage. He added that the multicast channels would be a benefit to consumers from the digital transition.

Martin said the issue of a la carte has become important as expanded basic cable rates have almost doubled in the last 10 years.


NCTA president and CEO Kyle McSlarrow rejected the idea and said it contradicted another government suggestion that cable companies should offer multiple digital signals from broadcasters, known as "multicasting."

Martin did praise the cable industry for providing broadband internet access on a mass scale and for creating competition in the phone business and noted he opposed regulation of broadband, including net neutrality rules, and urged that broadband services should not be subject of franchise fees or universal service fees.

He also promised an open dialogue with the industry. "I can promise you a fair hearing, serious consideration and above all, a lively debate," he said.

Kyle McSlarrow appreciated that the FCC recognised some of the cable achievements but felt that they "still have a difference of opinion" on some issues.

Questioning Martin‘s logic, McSlarrow said that in the case of a la carte, Martin favoured dismantling the cable bundle of channels, while on cable must-carry, he wanted channels to be added.

McSlarrow added as a privately financed business, cable should not be mandated by government to offer networks a la carte but by free market.

NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz said ‘expanded basic‘ prices may have doubled but the package now includes about 70 channels, up from 45 in 1996. NCTA estimates the number of customers using digital phone service from cable companies to have grown from 1.5 million in 2001 to 9.5 million in 2006.


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