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Minority Groups Oppose A La Carte

Led by the National Congress of Black Women (NCBW), 16 organizations representing minority interests have written the leadership of the House and Senate Commerce Committees opposing any attempt at a la carte cable legislation.

The issue of encouraging, or forcing, cable programmers and operators to unbundle cable channels has been roiled up by the indecency issue and brought to a boil by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's advocacy for more cable choice, including a family-friendly tier of service. One cable company, Cablevision, has already weighed in in support of such a tier.

"According to overwhelming evidence on the public record," wrote the groups "such 'pay-per-channel' regulations would likely result in price hikes for consumers while decimating minority and other new cable programmers who are now able to air programming focused on African-American and Hispanic audiences."

Among other things, they cite an FCC study that concluded that "new cable television programmers depend on their inclusion on the so-called 'expanded basic' programming tier for their very survival."

Martin has recently said that study was one-sided and erroneous. "The staff is now finalizing a report that concludes that the earlier report relied on problematic assumptions and presented incorrect and incomplete analysis," he told the Senate Commerce Committee at an indecency forum two weeks ago.

"[A] la carte pricing regulations could have devastating effects on Hispanic and African-American programmers," the groups concluded. "Were such regulations in place previously, networks such as BET, TV One, Sí-TV and others could not have survived."

The Senate Commerce Committee is holding a follow-up indecency forum Monday, Dec. 12. Former Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti and National Cable Telecommunications Association President Kyle McSlarrow are the two witnesses, with a simplified TV-ratings system expected to be a topic of conversation, though a la carte and famly-friendly tiers will likely come up as well.

Among the groups signing on to the letter were the National Council of La Raza, the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council, and the Cleveland chapter of the NAACP.