The FCC is pushing for mandatory a la carte cable programming, forcing cable companies to let customers assemble their own cable packages. Which sounds pretty cool on its face–just the Food Network, HBO, and cable news for me, thanks. But Randolph May (who is also the head of the Free State Project) objects at CNET.com:
An a la carte regime almost certainly would involve the government setting the prices for the unbundled channels. Otherwise cable operators could set the price for individual channels in a way that, in effect, establishes incentives not much different than those that exist in a current regime that allows blocking, but without any billing credit. This is why Martin has suggested an a la carte regime "could simply require the cable operator to reimburse consumers for the channels they request to have blocked." One way or another, the government surely will get involved in setting the reimbursement rate.
FCC chairman Kevin Martin says the new rules are necessary to protect kids from violent programming, he wants "to give parents more direct control over the television content that comes into their homes," never mind that parents can already block any channel they want. Martin answered First Amendment objections with a backwards rationale:
"While the Constitution protects the right to speak, it certainly doesn't protect a right to get paid for that speech." But this formulation misses the mark. One of the landmark free speech cases of the 20th century, New York Times v. Sullivan, involved a paid ad in the Times. What the Constitution protects against are government restrictions, in the face of less restrictive alternatives, that affect the amount of speech a speaker wishes to convey, or the format in which the speaker chooses to convey the speech to those willing to pay to obtain it.
More on the dastardly FCC here.