Deal Pushing a la Carte Plan


Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) is pushing a la carte legislation, with the support of small cable operators and consumers groups, that would seek to dilute the power of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox to enforce expanded-basic carriage of their large stable of cable networks.

Deal -- who described his a la carte amendment to colleagues on the Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee Wednesday -- would not require cable operators to offer channels a la carte.

Instead, programming suppliers would be barred from denying cable and direct-broadcast satellite carriers the opportunity to sell channels a la carte.

"My amendment will allow families to choose the channels they want and to begin to rein in the escalating cost of television reception," Deal said, adding that small MSO trade group the American Cable Association endorsed his plan.

Although Deal withdrew his amendment, he hopes to raise the issue again in a few weeks when the full Energy and Commerce Committee considers legislation that allows DBS carriers to offer local TV stations and distant network signals.

ACA president Matt Polka said he is supporting Deal's approach because the alternative approach -- mandated a la carte sale of all channels -- was not acceptable.

"Consumers do not have choice and cable operators do not have choice," Polka said. "We are supporting it because Mr. Deal has had the courage to raise the issue of choice."

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) -- one of the few African Americans on the Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee -- argued that Deal's amendment would reduce channel choice and raise cable rates.

"I believe that an a la carte pricing amendment would be a disastrous amendment for diversity of programming among the cable networks," Rush said.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association declined comment, saying that it was unnecessary to comment on a withdrawn amendment.

Deal replied that if cable operators weren't forced to fill their channels with networks affiliated with a half-dozen media conglomerates, cable systems would have channel capacity to carry networks aimed at minority viewers.