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Bienstock: Caution on a la Carte

Portland, Ore. -- A top Comcast Corp. executive Monday warned small cable
operators about the potential dangers of lobbying for legislation mandating a la
carte offerings. Independent cable companies agreed to disagree with him.

"On the legislative front in Washington, let me just urge caution," Comcast
executive vice president and general counsel Terry Bienstock said during a panel
on Washington-related issues conducted by the American Cable Association.

"A la carte may sound good conceptually, but really think about whether it’s
something you want in your business, or do you want something more appropriate,
do you want a business solution?" he asked.

The ACA -- a lobbying group representing small and midsized independent cable
operators -- has argued that tiering and a la carte are ways for small systems
to control skyrocketing program costs and that if programmers don’t voluntarily
agree to such packaging, the government should step in. Comcast disagrees.

"If you haven’t seen us come out enthusiastically about a la carte issues and
things like that, there’s a reason," Bienstock said. "We’re very concerned about
the unintended consequences. No bill goes through and gets passed in the form
that anyone expects it to. You always have these riders on it and things we
could really hate."

In response to Bienstock’s remarks, ACA president Matt Polka essentially said
that independent operators, squeezed by skyrocketing program costs, have no
choice but to turn to Washington for help.

"We’re certainly not unmindful of the problems," Polka said. "We’ve got to do
something. Our members tell us that we’ve got to take action because the current
paradigm is not working ... It is leading us to drastic action."

He conceded that "there is risk involved" in seeking any regulation, adding,
"But we’re at a point now, with the advent of more and more consolidation, where
dialog has not worked."

The ACA and the National Cable Television Cooperative, which have a strategic
alliance, are holding their three-day joint annual meeting here, which is where
the panel was held.