McCain: Cable Fogged a la Carte Issue

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) Friday accused the cable industry of calling up a "parade of horribles" that created a fog.

No, he wasn't suggesting any necromancy on the part of cable companies. Instead, he was criticizing the FCC, helped by reams of industry comments, for concluding that forcing cable operators to create a la carte channel offerings would create a host of problems without solving the issues it was meant to address.

"Upon an initial review of the report, I am disappointed in what appears to be a paucity of discussion on the effect of cable and satellite companies offering an a la carte pricing option to consumers in addition to existing pricing options," McCain said Friday, "Instead, it appears the industry has been successful once again in distracting policy makers with a 'parade of horribles' that they allege would result from a mandatory a la carte offering.  Unfortunately, this creates a fog that obscures the reality that allowing consumers to purchase individual channels would give consumers more control over their cable and satellite bills, particularly for those consumers who watch only a few channels."

The FCC agreed that a la carte could lower bills for subscribers taking only a handful of channels (9 or fewer), but it argued that would come at the cost of niche channels driven out of business and higher bills for everyone else.

Numerous minority-targeted channels and religious broadcasters had said as much in comments to the FCC.

McCain, a frequent cable critic, was one of the legislators who had asked the FCC to investigate whether a la carte would help lower what he has charged is the high cost of cable, and help subscribers screen out more "indecent" content.

The cable industry argues that the price of cable, on a per-channel basis compared to other forms of entertainment is not high--the price of a single movie and popcorn for a family of four is pushing $50 dollars. It also points to education campaigns and TV ratings as ways to give subscribers both control and choice.

McCain said he would continue to push for more choice and lower prices either through a la carte, which he has pushed for, or more pay TV competition, which the FCC suggested in its report was the the right way to go.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.