As predicted, top members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have asked the Federal Communications Commission to conduct an inquiry into the ramifications of mandated a la carte pricing for saetllite broadcasting and cable.
One of those members, Rep. Nathan Deal, had wanted to ammend a satellite reauthorization bill to include language giving the industry the green light to offer channels on an individual basis. Since the controversial provision would have tied up the bill, Deal withdrew his amendment and others on the committee agreed to call for the study, which is to be submitted to the committee by Nov. 18.
In their letter, Deal, joined by committee Chairman Joe Barton, Telcecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton, ranking committee member John Dingell and ranking subcommittee member Ed Markey, asked for a bunch of information, including:
Do program distributors currently have the option buying channel a la carte from their suppliers?
What would the impact on retail rates to customers if programmers had to offer their network a la carte and could not bundle them?
What would the impact on retail rates to customers if programmers had to offer their network a la carte but could also bundle them?
How have broadcast networks and affiliate groups used retransmission consent to expand carriage of affiliated networks?
Is there any reason to regulate satellite and cable in terms of this issue?
What Constitutional or other legal questions are raised if Congress mandates stand-alone channel sales and prevents programmers from requiring carriage on particular tiers?
Those are the kinds of questions that could strike fear in the hearts of big cable program suppliers.
Responding to news of the letter, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association said: “As the General Accounting Office (GAO) has found, 'a la carte' pricing would likely lead to a choice of fewer cable channels at higher prices for consumers. The economic facts have not changed over the six months since GAO issued its comprehensive study. We believe that an FCC study would further confirm that 'a la carte' pricing would be very harmful to ad-supported cable networks and consumers by reducing programming diversity and driving up the cost of cable and satellite television."