To help the commissioners decide whether to seriously consider making cable systems and satellite-TV providers offer channels on a stand-alone basis, the Federal Communications Commission Tuesday asked for industry and public comment on how such a requirement would affect subscriber rates, programming diversity, rural markets and four other areas of concerns.
The request for comment is two steps away from imposing a new mandate and is intended to gather information the commission needs before formally proposing “a la carte” rules for pay-TV.
The inquiry is being launched at the request of leaders of the Senate and House Commerce Committees. The lawmakers requested the study, in part, to placate colleagues who were pushing legislation that would give satellite providers the right to offer channels a la carte if they want to and bar programming networks from forbidding the practice.
Fighting for the FCC inquiry was a quid pro quo for dropping the controversial a la carte legislation. The big cable conglomerates and programmers oppose an a la carte mandate, arguing that some networks will go dark and prices for others will skyrocket if they aren’t bundled together and delivered in a package to an audience big enough to satisfy advertisers.
Consumer activists say the threat of escalating prices is overblown. Small cable companies that don’t own channels like a la carte because letting customers choose only the channels they want to provide an option for lowering customers’ monthly bills. Comments on the FCC inquiry are due July 8; replies July 23.