House Panel to Hold a la Carte Hearing

Whether cable operators should offer a la carte programming to consumers goes before a House subcommittee July 14, continuing Capitol Hill’s interest in an issue that caught the cable industry by surprise.

The House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet is holding the hearing. A witness list was not available, but MSO and programming executives are expected to appear.

The hearing is a compromise reached early in the year that killed an a la carte effort pushed by Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.). He proposed an amendment that would have prevented cable programmers from banning pay TV distributors from offering their services a la carte.

Deal dropped his amendment -- which he wanted to add to the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act -- in exchange for a hearing and a Federal Communications Commission study. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has set a Nov. 18 deadline for completion of the FCC report.

Big players in the cable industry oppose mandated a la carte, while small-operator members of the American Cable Association do not. Some on Capitol Hill view a la carte as means of lowering cable rates and filtering indecent programming.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association insists that forced a la carte would mean that consumers would pay more for a small programming lineup. The trade group has said that a General Accounting Office study in October 2003 supports its conclusions.