Policy

DeLay Calls on Cable to Go a la Carte

3/02/2004 8:17 AM Eastern

Washington -- House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) called on the cable industry to allow consumers to pick all of their channels on an individual basis as a way of filtering indecent programming from their homes.

In remarks to a National Association of Broadcasters forum here Tuesday and later to reporters, DeLay stressed that he was not advocating government a la carte mandates, which, if imposed, would break up cable's long tradition of offering networks in packages with dozens of channels on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

"I would love to see them fix their own industry," DeLay told a reporter. "I should have a choice as to what comes into my home, not to what is dictated to come into my home by packages."

But DeLay warned the NAB group that in the wake of the Super Bowl breast exposure by Janet Jackson, Congress would respond if TV programming continued to be laced with gratuitous sex and violence.

"My message to you and everyone in your industry is this: The status quo will not stand," DeLay said.

On Wednesday, a House panel is expected to approve a bill that would raise radio and broadcast-TV indecency fines tenfold to $275,000 per offense. DeLay said he believed the fines should go higher.

DeLay became the highest-ranking lawmaker to advocate a la carte on cable. He said the idea hit him when he recently turned on the TV late at night and came across programming he found objectionable, citing Nip/Tuck on FX, Howard Stern on E! Entertainment Television and random happenings on Black Entertainment Television and MTV: Music Television.

"I just couldn't believe my eyes," DeLay told the NAB group. "The people who don't want it ought be able to say no."

The cable industry has opposed a la carte as a business model, saying it would undermine niche programmers while requiring consumers to rent or buy set-tops that can activate discrete program selections. MSOs also complain about high costs to convert billing systems to a la carte.

On Tuesday, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association announced a new consumer-education campaign to help consumers understand how cable systems can block channels they don't want entering their homes.

DeLay said he would not be satisfied if the cable industry responded to his a la carte call by developing so-called family-friendly programming packages -- something supported by Republican Federal Communications Commission member Kevin Martin.

"Why can't the technology let me pick? I pick my `family friendly' [tier] based upon what I think ought to be in my home, not what somebody else -- the industry itself -- is dictating," he added.

DeLay said he didn't how much time cable deserved to develop a la carte services.

March