Cable By the Channel Favored
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin yesterday said allowing consumers to buy cable channels individually, rather than in packages, might not be more expensive and would help protect children from indecent and violent programs.
Martin's comments were a warning to satellite and cable providers that if they fail to promote family-friendly viewing, Congress could consider imposing decency standards such as those that apply to over-the-air network broadcasts.
The FCC chairman's remarks about "a la carte" pricing at a congressional hearing offered support for an idea fiercely opposed by the industry, which argues that this will raise consumer costs and ultimately limit TV choices.
Industry analysts said Martin's testimony would give ammunition to those who want to pass legislation requiring providers to sell channels individually, but added that such a step would face stiff political resistance.
Lawmakers regularly decry increasingly coarse content on TV, but they have been at a loss to enact laws to limit it, hemmed in by First Amendment protections and by a powerful entertainment industry lobby.
Martin was unusually blunt in faulting the industry for not doing enough to protect children.
"For the last three years, I have . . . been urging the cable and satellite industry to give parents more of the tools they need. Thus far, there has been too little response," Martin said at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing that included testimony by entertainment executives and anti-indecency groups.
"If cable and satellite operators continue to refuse to offer parents more tools such as family-friendly programming packages, basic indecency and profanity restrictions may be a viable alternative that should also be considered," he said. He also said he would prefer voluntary action by the industry.
In his testimony, Martin repudiated an FCC study released last year by his predecessor, Michael K. Powell, that found that a la carte pricing would raise consumer costs and would not be viable for the industry.
Martin said that study "relied on problematic assumptions and presented incorrect and at times biased analysis."
He said the agency's new study "concludes that purchasing cable programming in a more a la carte manner in fact could be economically feasible and in consumers' best interest."
Cable industry executives rejected the notion.