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McCain Pans Program Tying, Praises FCC for Opening Inquiry

Senator, presidential candidate and frequent cable-rate and content critic John McCain (R-Ariz.) praised the Federal Communications Commission for its decision Tuesday to open an inquiry into program tying, in which cable and broadcast programmers tie deals for must-have programming -- such as a big-market TV station and a must-have channel like ESPN -- to less desirable programming.

McCain sees it as a step toward a consumer a la carte regime that he said would lower cable bills and give viewers more control over content -- a sentiment shared by FCC chairman Kevin Martin.

“I applaud the FCC for its decision to open a proceeding that I hope will lead to consumers being given more choice and greater control over their television-viewing options,” McCain said.

“Hopefully, consumers will soon have the ability to buy from their cable providers only the channels they watch and are willing to invite into their homes for viewing,” he added. “I have long advocated for channels to be made available on an a la carte basis in addition to packaged services and will continue to do so.”

He continued, "Currently, many programming contracts require cable systems to take less-popular or new channels to get ‘must-haves,’ such as ESPN, CNN or NBC. This results in many consumers on a tight budget having to buy large packages of channels at an added expense and many families having to buy channels that may carry programming they find unsuitable for family viewing."

Asked Wednesday whether he thought the tying item was a "back-door way" for the FCC to implement a la carte, National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow said he was confident that a "fair and impartial analysis of an a la carte regime would show that it provides less diversity and higher costs to consumers," adding that the commission has "very limited authority in this arena. The fact that they are doing an inquiry and analysis does not lead me to conclude that authority they did not have before suddenly exists now."