Stearns Hits A La Carte, Markey Bill


Washington—A key house Republican on Wednesday spoke against the need for new regulations designed to force cable operators to break up their programming packages into smaller offerings for consumers.

“Now is not the time to be experimenting with new regulatory models for video services. Our focus instead should be on the digital transition, which is occurring on Feb. 17, 2009,” said Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fl.), who is the most senior Republican on the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Internet.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin has pressured the cable industry to adopt an a la carte pricing model, which would allow consumers to purchase channels one at a time.

Martin's latest idea—called wholesale a la carte—is to allow cable operators to remove from their main programming packages any channel that costs 75 cents or more per month, per subscriber by the operator.

Appearing before a breakfast audience of about 300 cable industry officials, Stearns called wholesale a la carte a “misguided proposal for regulatory intervention ...”

Stearns embraced the cable industry's chief concerns about a la carte requirements.

“With a forced a la carte, what it will do is raise consumer rates and kill the availability of niche programming,” he said. “A vibrant video marketplace is developing and the last thing we need to do is have the government impose unnecessary regulation that would harm consumers.”

On Feb. 17, 2009, all full-power TV stations are required to turn off their analog signals and rely exclusively on their digital signals. Stearns indicated that consumer preparation was going well, claiming that 91 percent of homes had at least one TV set capable of viewing DTV signals.

On the subject of Internet regulation, Stearns said he was concerned about House net neutrality legislation (HR 5252) sponsored by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the telecommunications panel.

The Markey bill, Stearns said, not only failed to define key terms but also turned over too much power to the FCC.

“The marketplace has never been more competitive, broadband prices are falling and the speeds offered by providers are rising,” Stearns said. “Why would we regulate a rousing success into a potential failure?”