NCTA: FCC’s Martin Supports a la Carte

May 7, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Going into the lion’s den, FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin restated his positions regarding offering programming network on an a la carte basis and digital must-carry at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association’s annual convention on Monday.
Mr. Martin joked that given his recent disagreements with the cable industry, he was surprised to be invited to Las Vegas to speak. But he said he was not reflexively against cable, in fact calling himself an “avid customer” of cable services, including digital video recorders and high speed data.
Mr. Martin explained that his philosophy at the FCC was to create level playing fields for business in order to foster competition and consumer choice. When cable is the new entrant into a market, he will tend to favor the industry, when it is the incumbent, he may not.
Mr. Martin said that consumer should be able to purchase the networks that they want when they subscribed to cable, and not be forced to buy the ones they don’t. “I don’t believe they should have to buy Spike to get Discovery,” he said. He noted that the same philosophy led him to support cable’s efforts to offer Major League Baseball’s out-of-market game package, rather than force consumers to buy DirecTV in an exclusive arrangement.
The cable industry opposes a la carte because it says it would limit diversity, reduce viewing choices, and increase consumer costs.
Mr. Martin also said he supported mandating that cable operators carry the multicast channels that broadcasters put on their digital signals.
He said that was necessary to support the digital transition because the broadcasters say the channels aren’t viable without cable carriage. He added that the multicast channels would be a benefit to consumers from the digital transition. Other wise, consumers are being told “get a [digital] converter or you go dark” as opposed to get a new converter and you get more free channels.
He also chided the cable industry for saying that the market should decide whether broadcast multicast channels should be carried on cable, but says that consumer shouldn’t have a choice in which cable channels they get.
“You can’t have it both ways,” he said.
Mr. Martin did praise the cable industry for providing broadband Internet access on a mass scale and for creating competition in the phone business and noted he opposed regulation of broadband, including net neutrality rules, and urged that broadband services not be subject of franchise fees or universal service fees.
He also promised an open dialog with the industry. “I can promise you a fair hearing, serious consideration and above all, a lively debate,” he said.
Kyle McSlarrow, president and CEO of the NCTA, said he appreciated that the FCC recognized some of cable achievements and that Mr. Martin wanted to have an open dialog with the industry.
But he added “I think we still have a difference of opinion” on some issues.
He also questioned Mr. Martin’s logic, saying that in the case of a la carte, Mr. Martin favored dismantling the cable bundle of channels, while on cable must-carry, he wanted channels added.
The programming customers receive should be determined by the market and not the government, he said.


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