McCain: Can FCC Order a la Carte Now?


Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is asking the Federal Communications Commission to determine whether it currently has the authority to ensure that consumers have a la carte access to cable and satellite programming.

“I am writing to ask you to explore all available options within your authority to promote a la carte cable and satellite offerings as soon as possible where such offerings would benefit consumers,” McCain said in a May 19 letter to FCC chairman Michael Powell.

Large cable companies and a cross-section of programmers oppose mandated a la carte, claiming that it would raise rates and devastate niche networks that need to incubate in large tiers in order to find audiences.

McCain, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, is an a la carte booster who pulled an amendment in March that would have required cable and satellite companies to offer all of their channels a la carte without denying them the right to offer tiers simultaneously.

McCain’s letter arrived at the FCC one day after leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee ordered the agency to study a la carte from top to bottom and deliver a report to Congress by Nov. 18.

In his letter, McCain noted that U.S. pay TV customers have limited a la carte opportunities. He asked the FCC to study how Canadian cable companies provide their consumers with a la carte options.

“I urge the [FCC] to probe the options available to Canadian consumers and examine why such options are not available to American consumers,” McCain said.

McCain closed the letter to Powell by bemoaning the fact that cable companies won’t even experiment with a la carte.

“That is why I urge you to use any existing authority you have to promote, or to create incentives to promote, an a la carte pricing option in conjunction with whatever tiers cable and satellite companies already offer,” McCain said.