The Senate Commerce Committee voted overwhelmingly not to effectively require cable operators to offer their service à la carte. That vote came as part of the day-long, continuing mark-up of the video franchise/telecommunications-reform bill that is getting larger by the day.
As long promised, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) offered an amendment that would have denied the new streamlined video franchising scheme to video service providers that did not offer their programming per-channel, and it would have denied broadcast-flag protection to TV stations that did not allow their channels to be offered stand-alone. (It was not co-sponsored by Washington Democrat Maria Cantwell, as B&C first reported.)
McCain praised the support of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin on the ammendment, saying it was courageious for him to stand up to the cable companies.
McCain billed his bill as an incentive to voluntary action, but Stevens pointed out that it was essentially denying the benefits of the bill to those who didn't cooperate.
The vote may have been 20 to 2 against, but cable programmers should not be sleeping too easy. The committee's message was clearly mixed.
Stevens said he "believed in some a la carte," and said that he thought it would eventually come.
"A la carte is going to come and I urge the industry go get on with it," said Mississippi Republican Trent Lott. But he had an even sharper point to put on it. Saying it would be on the record as an implied threat, Lott said he expected this would be "the last time he was going to vote against a la carte."
Committee Co-chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said that he was concerned that channels like History or Discovery might be lost in an a la carte world.
The morning was not a total defeat for McCain. His long-pushed effort to add low power FM radio stations to the broadcast band passed overwhelmingly 14-7, though observers noted it has passed the committee before and been defeated further down the line.
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