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FCC Says Argument for A La Carte is Proven

Multichannel News reports that parents should have the right to buy only those cable channels they deem appropriate for their families in an a la carte selection process that would promote consumer choice and competition among pay TV distributors, a Federal Communications Commission official said.

�Why should you have to pay for channels that you are blocking?� FCC chief economist Leslie Marx said. "The FCC has looked into the issue of providing consumers with more choice and has found that a la carte and other means for increasing consumer choice could benefit consumers.�

Marx said that the a la carte sale of cable networks is a market reality in several mature economies around the globe, and the results are proven. In Hong Kong, for example, she said, the introduction of a la carte in recent years by one cable company has forced the second cable company to respond competitively by slashing tier prices. Hong Kong consumers who go a la carte pay 50 percent less than those who buy programming tiers.

�All programming competes in the free market, and diverse programming selections have remained,� Marx added. �There is every reason to believe that a la carte offerings would be equally, if not more, successful here in the United States.� At least twice, Marx suggested that �the FCC� has endorsed cable a la carte. In fact, the agency under Martin issued a report in February saying that a la carte could lower cable bills under certain scenarios, but the report was not endorsed by an FCC majority.

Marx, a PhD economist on leave from Duke University�s Fuqua School of Business, joined the FCC last August. Her unvarnished support for a la carte went well beyond Martin�s personal observations on the subject, which are usually tied to parental empowerment over cable channels that include indecent content.

In her comments, Marx took strong issue with the U.S. cable industry�s tradition of selling dozens of channels in tiers and requiring parents to rely on digital set-top boxes to interdict programming they don�t want their children to view. �The FCC agrees that parental choice and control is critically important, but to really give parents the choice and control they need, allow them to purchase only those channels they regard as appropriate for their families,� Marx said. �Allow consumer choice to be the factor that regulates programming content in the cable industry.�

�If you want to empower parents, really empower them, if you want to enable them to avoid watching television that they don�t want, then allow them to choose the channel that they want to watch and not pay for the channels that they don�t want to watch,� she added.

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