House requests FCC study

Washington orders a la carte report

Senior members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce have asked the FCC for a comprehensive report on the effects of “a la carte” channel selection for cable and satellite television customers.

The House committee members asked the Federal Communications Commission to report back on specific questions and scenarios dealing with rates, programming diversity and applicable technology.

Letter dated May 18 and signed by leaders from both parties, including chairman Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, and ranking Democrat John Dingell of Michigan, requests the study results by Nov. 18.

Among the issues the lawmakers want assessed are:

  • The impact on cable and satellite rates if channels were offered only on an a la carte basis, with no discounts allowed for bundled programming.

  • The impact on rates if programs were offered a la carte, in addition to the current bundled packages.

  • The effect of a la carte or themed tier offerings on networks’ abilities to attract advertising.

  • The effect, if any, of a la carte offerings on niche, religious and ethnic programmers.

  • Technical requirements, in signal transmission and set-top boxes, for offering and receiving signals a la carte.

The cable industry has maintained that a la carte offerings will result in higher prices and fewer channels for consumers.

In response to the House committee’s letter, the National Cable and Telecommunications Assn. said in a statement: “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.”

On the other hand, Consumers Union, publisher of Consumers Report magazine, applauded the legislative request for the FCC study.

“We are pleased that Congress has listened to the overwhelming public outcry against cable rate increases and requirements that consumers purchase channels they do not want or that they find objectionable,” said a statement by the org. “We are confident that the facts will demonstrate the benefits of ‘a la carte’ channel selection — more choice, better prices and more diverse programming.”