Tennessee Lawmakers Hit Martin On A La Carte


Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin’s plan to impose wholesale a la carte mandates on the cable industry continues to bleed Republican support as key U.S. lawmakers from Tennessee recently voiced strong objections.

The latest attack on Martin’s plan came Feb. 12 in a letter from three powerful Tennessee Republicans on Capitol Hill: Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker as well as Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who complained that Martin’s untested scheme could have a “devastating impact” on parts of Tennessee’s cable programming community.

“We are therefore concerned that the FCC’s notice of proposed rulemaking for a government mandated a la carte proposal will pose a significant risk to Tennessee’s economy, while offering consumers fewer choices,” the lawmakers said.

Martin wants new rules that would force cable programmers to wholesale channels on an a la carte basis so that cable and satellite TV distributors would not need to license channels in a bundle and pay for programming that they didn’t want.

Martin hasn’t spoken about a ban on bundling, only that the channels in the bundle are to be made available a la carte. Martin also hasn’t endorsed regulating a la carte rates if programmers use sky-high per-channel rates to protect the bundle.

In their letter, the lawmakers pointed out that their state is home to an array of cable networks.

Viacom-owned Country Music Television and CMT Pure Country are based in Nashville, as is Scripps-owned Great American Country, while Scripps’s Food Network, HGTV, and DIY Network are based in Knoxville. Nashville-based Gospel Music Channel is “a key hub" for Trinity Broadcasting Network, the lawmakers said.

“In large part, the success of these Tennessee-based networks is a function of their ability to reach wide audiences and sell advertising time – an ability we believe a government-mandated a la carte proposal will threaten,” the lawmakers said.

The lawmakers indicated that the cable market was thriving, with Tennessee based production a sign that New York and Los Angeles have competition for creative talent. A la carte, they said, could destroy that competition.

“If video programmers cannot package these networks with other programming, they may not be able to reach sufficient viewers to survive. The impact on the country music industry, which has no other dedicated cable outlets, could be devastating,” the lawmakers said.