"President" McCain Would Still Push a La Carte

Republican nominee likely to continue support of a la carte pricing for cable channels.
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Senator John McCain has pushed for cable a la carte, and President John McCain would likely do the same.

 That's according to senior McCain campaign policy adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin in an interview for installment of C-CPAN's "Communicators" series. Holtz-Eakin also says McCain is not the Internet-challenged figure he has been portrayed to be by his political opponents, that Internet regulation should be a last resort, that he doesn't favor the creation of a chief technology officer, and that he has no interest in pushing back the date for the DTV transition.

 Asked whether candidate McCain still wanted cable to offer its programming a la carte, and what he would do about it as president, Holtz-Eakin said the issue was a "classic example" of the Senator's view of the "appropriate role of government," which he says is to "look out into the landscape and if you see concentrations of power, find ways to ameliorate the exercise of that power."

 He says McCain's view is that cable companies "have had far too much authority and market power in many marketplaces," adding: "There was no ability to ameliorate other than by directly demanding that they be responsive to some consumers' desires to get specific channels and not get others. And he would continue, as a general matter, to look at these issues in that way," he said. "You don't want concentrations of power on any side of the equation." But he did not say whether McCain would push the government to step in or pressure the industry to do so voluntarily.

 The cable industry has recognized that some form of a la carte may be necessary in a world of increasing choice and viewer control over content, but it opposes government trying to dictate that model to it.

 McCain has gotten heat for not using the Internet, but Holtz-Eakin took issue with the criticism.

 He said it was an "unfair characterization" that McCain did not use the Internet, though he framed his defense of McCain's Internet savvy in terms of the people around him. "He is in touch with what Americans are doing on the Internet," Holtz-Eakin said. "He has a family, he has kids that use the Internet. He's got a daughter who has a blog about the campaign. She travels with him. He has a videographer. He is surrounded by this. Nevertheleess, there has been a political attempt to portray him as not understanding the issue."

 On the issue of network neutrality, Holtz-Eakin echoed the Senator's technology policy statement, just posted on the campaign's web site, saying "aggressive and prescriptive legislation on network neutrality" is not desirable "at this time." He left open the possibility of some kind of legislation, but only if all else failed.

 He said Senator McCain had not taken a position on the FCC's specific conclusion that Comcast had violated the FCC's open access principles, but said McCain did believe in aggressive monitoring of abusive practices, "and if you find such behavior, apply a remedy..."

 Asked whether that didn't sound like what the FCC was trying to do in finding Comcast in violation, he said "absolutely," adding. "There is a need for a framework in which the market will operate and that framework includes regulations that define market practices and have some oversight of them."

 Holtz-Eakin did not take open Internet-related legislation entirely off the table, but made clear it was down the list. "The senator would encourage private firms to develop a best-practice model and industry self-regulation. If that is insufficient you would want to give the authority to an oversight body such as the FCC to write standards of information sharing and give them the authority to enforce it. And as a last step to try and codify it in statutory language, which has the disadvantage of being inflexible..."

 Unlike Barack Obama, McCain would support the creation of a Chief Technology Officer, said Holtz-Eakin, saying that adding another layer of bureaucracy is not the answer to dealing with new tech issues. "He is not going to have to put in place a single figurehead to gain the confidence of the tech community. He has that confidence through his track record" of opening trade and lowering taxes and removing tariffs on important tech products.

 Holtz-Eakins said McCain has been a leader in trying to "hurry" the DTV transition for the sake of improving communications for first responders.

 Asked whether the Senator would be open to delaying the Feb. 17, date if some viewers weren't ready, he said "it is not his first choice to delay this any further. This is a pressing issue of national security in some cases. Pro-active efforts between now and the transition are far better than a delay."