Minority Groups Target Undbundling

Minority business groups that have historically opposed retail cable a la carte said wholesale program unbundling will be equally "devastating" for program diversity.

In a letter to Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin and the other commissioners, more than one-dozen groups ranging from the National Congress of Black Women to the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce argued, as they did on retail a la carte, that program bundling increases the availability of minority-targeted programming, which boosts investment, which "yields a higher-quality product."

Program unbundling -- which would require cable programmers to offer channels individually, as well as in bundles -- would "strike a deadly blow at this virtuous cycle by eradicating the benefits of bundling," the group opined somewhat floridly.

They also took aim at a suggestion by Martin that one unbundling model might be to require channels above a certain per-subscriber price -- say 75 cents or $1 -- be sold individually as a way to lower cable prices and increase cable-operator control over their channel lineups.

"We are puzzled by the chairman’s proposal to establish an arbitrary price above which the government would force programmers to allow the retail sale of their channels on an a la carte basis," they wrote. "We don’t believe that the chairman’s proposals for wholesale a la carte -- including the so-called 75-cent solution -- will result in any benefit for consumers. Worse yet, like the retail a la carte proposals of old, wholesale a la carte is likely to increase prices for popular programming and wreak havoc on diversity by delivering a crushing blow to channels targeting minority communities."

They closed the letter urging the commissioners to "continue opposing" unbundling, which would appear to be some wishful thinking since the first name on the letter was that of Martin, who proposed and supports it.

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.