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TV a la Carte?
The House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet serves as a watchdog over numerous communications and technology issues. Hearings were recently held by the Subcommittee on the contentious question of whether cable television customers should be able to pay for only those channels they choose. Currently, most consumers buy the right to view "tiers" of channels.

The cable industry strongly opposes legislative proposals that would mandate cable companies provide consumers with an a la carte option. The industry argues that a la carte programming would reduce consumer choice since startup and niche channels wouldn't be able to attract advertisers without being included as part of a bundle of channels. Furthermore, the audience fragmentation would reduce advertising rates for all channels, resulting in higher consumer fees.

A National Cable & Telecommunications Association summarized the argument against a la care requirements by explaining that "Even if consumers were to choose just 17 channels, their bills would go up considerably. Bundles of programming provide the best value for consumers." The industry's views have been backed up be a GAO report that reached similar conclusions.

However, some consumer groups and other stakeholders are not convinced. One advocate of a la carte service offerings noted that "If you want Nickelodeon, you must buy the sexually explicit programming of MTV and Spike TV."

A senior official with Consumers Union explained his view of the current system by stating that "Independent programs cannot get on. Is that diversity?" Consumers Union supports a mandatory a la carte test project in a local market prior to any national implementation scheme.

No legislative proposal is likely to be enacted prior to release of a major FCC report on the issue.

Winston is not sure how he feels about the issue. On one hand, he sees at least superficial appeal to being able to pay for only those channels he wants to watch. On the other hand, Winston has trouble remembering the last time a government-imposed solution to a problem that may not even exist did more good than harm. Ultimately, Winston appreciates the Subcommittee for holding hearings to help ventilate and sort out a tough issue.

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