McCain Files a la Carte Amendment

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has drafted an amendment that would require cable operators and direct-broadcast satellite carriers to offer a la carte pricing under regulations established by the Federal Communications Commission within six months.

On Monday, sources cautioned that it was unclear whether McCain, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, would actually go forward and seek to attach the amendment to broadcast-indecency legislation that his panel is scheduled to mark up Tuesday morning.

According to a draft of McCain's amendment, the FCC would have 90 days to initiate, and 180 days to conclude, "a proceeding to require cable-system operators to offer subscribers the opportunity to obtain access to each channel available from such operators on a per-channel fee basis."

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association is on record as opposing a la carte mandates.

McCain's a la carte amendment would also apply to DirecTV Inc., EchoStar Communications Corp. and other distributors of multichannel video programming.

In another potential problem for cable and satellite, Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) has filed an amendment that would apply broadcast-indecency rules to cable programming on the expanded-basic tier until the FCC determines that 85% of households with children are using the V-chip or similar technology to block offensive programming, or have affirmatively said they don't want blocking capabilities.

Under Breaux's amendment, cable operators, cable programmers or both could FCC fines of up to $27,500 per indecency violation.

Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) has filed amendments that would, based on bare-bones descriptions of them, promote "family tiers" on cable and satellite and would give consumers the right to block cable and satellite programming.

And Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.) have jointly drafted amendments that would overturn the FCC's decision last June to allow for greater cross-ownership of radio, TV and newspaper properties in the same market.