McCain Links a la Carte to Flag

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TV stations that refuse to allow the a la carte sale of affiliated cable networks would be ineligible to rely on federal regulations designed to protect their broadcast programming from rampant Internet piracy, according to a proposal by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) released Tuesday afternoon.

McCain, an active supporter of more a la carte choice for cable and satellite subscribers, is planning to offer his amendment Thursday when the Senate Commerce Committee meets to vote on a sweeping telecommunications bill (S. 2686) sponsored by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

In his original bill (S. 3457), McCain would have stripped TV stations of their federal network-nonduplication protections if they refused to permit their cable networks to be distributed a la carte by cable and satellite companies.

Now, McCain wants to withhold so-called broadcast-flag protections as the penalty if TV stations won’t give consumers the opportunity to buy programming on a stand-alone basis.

The Federal Communications Commission’s network-nonduplication rules are designed to ensure that a cable operator or satellite carrier may not import network programming of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox from another market. The broadcast-flag provisions were already included in the Stevens bill. The FCC had adopted rules designed to protect digital-TV programming from Internet retransmission, but a federal court ruled that the agency lacked congressional authority to do so.

McCain’s amendment would withhold the local franchising relief provided in the Stevens bill from video providers that do not offer affiliated cable channels in an a la carte fashion.

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