Congress Cans a la Carte

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Despite a big build-up by lawmakers who want cable and satellite providers to sell programming on a channel-by-channel basis, Congress won’t be voting on either idea this year.

House Commerce Committee leaders persuaded supporters of so-called “a la carte” offerings to drop the current plans for legislation.

Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., announced Tuesday he is withdrawing the a la carte amendment he planned to offer when the Commerce Committee votes on satellite TV legislation next month.

“There was not a lot of support for that idea right now,” Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton explained during a luncheon speech to the American Cable Association. Deal announced plans to withdraw his measure before the same group earlier in the day.

Barton and other committee leaders feared the controversial a la carte provision would derail a bill renewing satellite companies' right to carry broadcast channels. ACA, which represents small cable systems and systems that do not own programming networks, was one of the few industry groups supporting Deal’s idea.

Small cable systems might have benefited from the plan, which would have barred programmers from prohibiting pay-TV providers’ channel-by-channel sales to consumers. Today, most programmers require that entire network families be sold as bundles. Niche channels, such as those targeted to minorities, oppose a la carte, arguing that it reduces their chances of carriage.

To placate Deal, Barton and House Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton will ask the FCC to study the feasibility of an a la carte requirement. The two Republicans are also asking Democratic counterparts John Dingell and Ed Markey to sign on to the request.

A la carte is being pushed by consumer advocates who believe subscriber fees will drop if customers don’t have to buy channels they don’t watch. Foes of raunchy programming also like a la carte as well, saying it will allow parents to buy only the channels they believe appropriate for their children.

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