TV's Shielded from a la Carte?

Cable subscribers should not have the right to pick and choose among local TV stations, the National Association of Broadcasters said.

Local stations must be excluded if the FCC requires cable operators to sell some channels on an a la carte cable basis, NAB told the FCC in a filing Friday. The 1992 law requiring cable operators to offer all local stations either free carriage on their systems or negotiated retransmission consent contracts prohibits cable from selling the stations to viewers on a channel-by-channel basis.

The 1992 Cable Act requires "that local broadcast signals be provided as part of the minimum service offered by a cable system" and not on a basis "where some subscribers might choose not to take them," NAB said.

Congress passed the must carry/retransmission consent statute in part to increase the number of diverse sources from which subscribers receive their TV programming, NAB said, pointing out that that intent would be thwarted if subscribers chose not to buy some local channels. NAB said it was not opposed in principle to a la carte as applied to cable channels.

The FCC is examining whether a la carte cable offerings would allow U.S. subscribers to cut their cable bills by culling unwanted channels from their programming packages. The cable industry says it would, instead, do just the opposite.