More likely, however, is that the indecency cry could reignite the long-simmering cable and satellite a la carte battle. One of the leading social conservative organizations is planning on using the indecency issue to lobby for a la carte cable in the Spring.
In August 2004, the FCC held hearings on the topic of whether cable companies should be required to offer a la carte channel selections, whereby consumers could pick and choose the channels they wanted rather than being forced to take the dozens or even hundreds currently offered by most cable companies.
The idea found a strong ally in Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), then the head of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
After deliberating for three months, the FCC returned a verdict: A la carte selection would increase prices to consumers, according to their study, since doing so would increase the back-end costs to cable companies. The decision – and the study on which it was based – was highly controversial when it was released in late November.
Unlike the August effort, however, which was couched in “consumer choice” concerns, this effort would carry with it the far more pressing – and politically lucrative – issue of indecency.
And with the recent indecency rumblings, unlikely allies are forming to once again push the issue of a la carte pricing.
The Parents Television Council, a 10-year-old, Los Angeles-based non-profit organization that uses the Internet to mobilize citizens against television shows that it views as harmful and negative, is only offering Stevens’ notion secondary support, preferring instead an a la carte or tiered cable offering.
“We hope [Stevens’ plan] doesn’t reach the bill stage,” says Lara Mahaney, director of corporate affairs for PTC. “We think there’s a better way to go about it.”
Mahaney says the PTC is currently forming coalitions “from the left and the right” and plans a “heavy lobbying campaign” in April or May for a la carte, or tier-based consumer cable choice.
One possible coalition member – to his own surprise – might be Jonathan Rintels, Executive Director for the Center for Creative Voices in the Media, a Washington, DC-based organization aimed at “preserving original, independent, and diverse voices in America’s media.”
Though Rintels calls PTC “the number one national nanny,” and says the group is part of a “mindless stampede towards censorship as the first resort,” he sides with them on their preference for changing the cable channel offerings over censorship.
Though he acknowledges that the telecommunications and network lobbies wield enormous influence in Washington, he believes this might be the time to mount a serious campaign.
“There’s so much momentum with objectionable programming that maybe this is [a la carte’s] time,” he says. “If Congress really wants to get serious about program content quality or choice on cable, they ought to look into a la carte.”