House Deal Would Toss a la Carte to FCC


House a la carte legislation appears dead for the year as a result of an agreement that calls for House hearings on the topic soon and requires the Federal Communications Commission to give the issue careful examination.

“There is not a lot of support for that idea right now, but there is a lot of support that we ought to research it,” House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) said in comments Tuesday to the American Cable Association, a group of small cable companies that support more a la carte options for cable consumers.

Barton and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, plan to draft a letter asking the FCC to study the a la carte issue from several angles.

“We’ll give them a list of specific technological questions that we want them to answer,” Barton said.

Tossing the ball to the FCC was intended to mollify Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.), who wants programmers to allow cable and satellite operators to sell their channels individually, rather than in large bundles, although Deal would not specifically mandate retail a la carte.

Deal had intended to offer his a la carte proposal as an amendment to a bill reauthorizing the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act. But Deal’s effort lost steam after he learned that House “germaneness” rules would require him to strip cable from his amendment.

In a compromise, Deal agreed not to pursue a la carte against cable or satellite this year in exchange for the FCC study and a few a la carte hearings in the Upton subcommittee.

“We’re hoping for hearings before August,” said Deal aide Ansley Davis, whose boss views a la carte as a mechanism for dealing with rising cable rates and screening out indecent programming on a per-channel basis.

Barton -- who wants the FCC letter to be bipartisan -- is seeking the signatures of Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.), even though Markey has publicly opposed Deal’s amendment.

“There’s no reason to expect that they wouldn’t want to sign the letter, but it’s obviously their prerogative if they choose to,” Barton said. “I am optimistic that they will join us.”