Civil Liberties

FCC Continues Assaults on Cable; To Invade Poland by End of Year


From The Wash Times, comments from Federal Communciations Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin, more evidence that the agency is pushing like Germany into Poland for more real estate to regulate:

"Today, consumers pay double what they paid less than a decade ago and they have fewer choices, not more, and they have to buy a bigger and bigger bundle of services if they want to get anything," Mr. Martin told editors and reporters at The Washington Times on Tuesday. "If you want to buy the Discovery Channel for your children, you have to buy a package that includes a whole bunch of channels that you don't want."

Why is he talking about cable in the first place? And why has he been pushing this stat: "Cable channels have doubled, but the average number of channels that subscribers watch has increased only from 13 to 15"?

Because Martin wants to force cable companies to offer so-called a la carte pricing, in which operators would have to offer single channels for sale. A coupla-three years ago, Tim Cavanaugh explained why de-bundling channels would hurt the Mother Angelicas of the world—the oddball small channels that pull devoted but tiny audiences only their all-forgiving God (and cable operators desperate to offer whatever might pull in an additional viewer at marginal costs) could love. His back-of-the-envelope calculations convincingly show that there's no way that the chintziest a la carte menu wouldn't cost at least the same as most basic cable packages, which offer dozens of channels (plus music).

Indeed, there's no evidence that a la carte pricing would reduce the price to the average consumer (who can always skip or de-program offending fare to begin with), but it would help get the FCC more in the mix of what's on the cable-fed tube. The agency is already trying to push its "fleeting indecency" rule on broadcast TV and radio and it's no secret that Martin would like to extend content regulation to cable and satellite services. Indeed, whenever Martin, or other FCC folks start talking, it's worth remembering that the nanny-state impulse runs through them like child-molester jokes did through last night's Comedy Central roast of Full House star Bob Saget. Here's a money quote from Martin a couple of years ago that should be remembered always:

"You can always turn the television off and, of course, block the channels you don't want. But why should you have to?"

I really don't want a guy who thinks like that making any decisions for me.