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Minority Nets Pan À La Carte

With Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) apparently finally introducing a bill to encourage cable companies to provide à la carte service, some minority-targetted cable channels were looking to head off the effort in an appeal to Senate Commerce Committee Co-chairmen Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).

And they were't beating around the bush. "Those who promote diversity in today's media marketplace would do it a fatal disservice by supporting à la carte requirements.

Citing GAO and other studies that have found a per-channel cable scheme would offer "no benefit to the vast majority of consumers" and an FCC report that it would "likely diminish diversity and minority-interest programming," they argued that networks like theirs would never even have been launched in an à la carte world.

Those networks included Black Entertainment Television, ESPN Desportes, Fox Sports en Espanol, TV One, and The Africa Channel.

McCain has been telegraphing the bill for months.

At a February Senate Commerce Committee hearing on video franchising, he promised to introduce the bill encouraging à la carte cable offerings.

After again laying into the cable industry over rising rates and saying consumers have few competitive options, McCain said he planned to introduce a bill that would free new cable competitors from local franchising regs if they, in turn, would agree to offer their video channels à la carte.

The cable industry argues that à la carte will wreak havoc with cable's business model, including supporting the niche channels that benefit from being packaged with anchor networks.

That McCain bill is just one of a growing legion of bills related to streamlining the video franchising process, which is meant to encourage broadband rollout and price and service competition to cable.

The House and Senate commerce Commitee versions of a rewrite of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 have been joined by a growing number of bills dealing with video franchising and the related issue of network neutrality. McCain's is yet another in that legion.

McCain's goal is at least twofold: to lower cable bills and to give parents more control over cable indecency, which is beyond the reach of the FCC.