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Beware the À La Carte Solution

Reading articles like the front-page story in the March 2 USA Today (“How We Pay for Cable May Be About To Change”), it can seem like a foregone conclusion that à la carte will become the standard for cable programming. Even some conservative organizations that normally oppose regulations believe a government-regulated system like à la carte will fix the TV-indecency problem and reverse rising cable rates.

As a Christian organization, the Inspiration Networks shares a concern about TV's declining moral content. But we believe à la carte is not the panacea.

This debate is more about philosophy and politics than practical solutions. Having met with staffers on both the House and Senate side, I can report there are many unanswered questions.

First, in an à la carte world, which of today's 300+ networks will be offered? Will consumers be able to choose from all available networks or just a few? Would independent networks like ours receive equal treatment? Or will the established networks associated with media conglomerates once again have an advantage? Who will be the gatekeepers? And what will be the pricing structures and options? The details seem to be lost in the rush to embrace a philosophical concept.

Today, there are organizations, like ours, dedicated to providing quality, family-oriented programs, but à la carte could actually make it more difficult to produce these programs. We have been able to grow in part because our networks have been part of widely distributed multichannel packages offered by systems. Millions of new viewers, who would be otherwise unaware of our existence, are exposed to our programs.

Unlike broadcast stations and networks, cable operators are not mandated to carry cable-exclusive channels like our networks. Any à la carte legislation could severely damage our distribution and possibly put our very existence at risk.

In the new, emerging world, technologies like video-on-demand, broadband and DVRs are increasing consumer control, making it easy to create or access safe, on-demand menus of stored programs for families and children. These are marketplace-driven solutions that empower people without government interference.

Based on history, do any of us really believe that government controls will save consumers money? Or create more-efficient media access? Or solve the “indecency” problems? We seriously doubt it.

In fact, à la carte could force a scenario that would cost consumers more. Networks may be forced out of existence. For these reasons, and more, The Inspiration Networks is opposed to such government intervention into how products and services are marketed.

Roos is Inspiration Networks' senior VP, corporate communications & research.