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Small Ops Dis a la Carte

Saying that they are particularly vulnerable to the downside of government-mandated a la carte service, a group of smaller cable operators has weighed in at the Federal Communications Commission against the practice.

Forcing them to sell their channels individually would harm them and their customers, the companies argued, by boosting cable bills and reducing program diversity and quality.

Momentum in Washington for a la carte has been partly generated by cable price critic John McCain, who has proposed it as a way of lowering cable bills, and by the indecency crackdown on the media. Allowing customers to pick and chose channels, some legislators argue, is one way of giving them the power to control cable indecency.

The small operators group, comprising Bresnan (310,000 basic subs), Susquehanna (236,000), Midcontinent (225,000), Millennium (130,000), Bend (29,000), Eagle (12,000), Sjoberg's (8,500), and First Commonwealth (5,000) said they "strongly oppose any government intrusion into the editorial and business decisions about the packaging and pricing of cable programming."

In addition to the control issue, the financial hit loomed large. They argued that it would cost more for programming, billing, individually delivering channels and more, all costs that small operators are less able to bear.