Skip to main content

A la Carte All But Dead

Efforts to make cable operators offer channels on an individual, “a la carte” basis are all but dead for this year, Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) acknowledged Thursday.

Recognizing that he doesn’t have the votes to move the idea through his own committee, the maverick Republican instead promised only to explore a pilot program pitched by pro-regulation activists at Consumers Union.
 “We’re going to take a look at it,” McCain told reporters after a hearing on a la carte pricing and consumer rates in general. “I’m not sure of the legality.”
 A la carte proposals received a lukewarm reception from many of McCain’s colleagues on the Commerce panel. That’s a clear indication McCain would have trouble getting Congress as a whole to go along with the idea.
Also, a report last week by the General Accounting Office, the auditing and research arm of Congress, said it’s a toss-up whether letting consumers subscribe only to channels they want rather than buying everything that comes packaged in a standard cable programming tier would actually save them money.
 “An a la carte approach would provide consumers with more individual choice,” but ...“could result in reduced advertising revenues and might result in higher per-channel rates and less diversity of program choice,” GAO concluded.
 Complaints over raunchy expanded basic programming on nets like MTV and Comedy Central prompted some social conservatives on McCain's committee to jump on the a la carte bandwagon as a way to help parents decide which channels come into their homes, but their numbers appear too small to pass the measure now.
The cable industry blunted many of the indecency concerns two days before the hearing by announcing that many operators will be providing free channel-blocking technology to subscribers who want it.