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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

TV Cable a la carte


You probably saw the article earlier this month noting the Federal Communications Commission's reversal about a la carte cable programming, or in the words of Ray Davies, "Give the people what they want."

First off, I'm puzzled.

The story is clear that Congressional legislation is likely needed to effect the change, so it wasn't as though the change came with the report, only the Commission's position on cable programming. So the play it got confounded me.

Also, I'm suspicious.

I certainly don't know if it would be cheaper or not to configure individual homes, this one with channels 1-25 and that one with channels 11-35, although it is counterintuitive to think that if they charge $50 for 100 channels, the companies will now start charging $25 for 50 channels. There are some fixed costs, I would imagine.

What I'm suspicious of is promises. The 1996 Telecommunications Act was supposed to create greater competition, and therefore lower prices for cable television. This simply has not happened.

Some analysts suggest that there will be fewer new cable cable stations, because without being bundled, people will be less likely to choose a not yet aired network.
Finally, I'm concerned.

I'm hoping that whatever is ultimately worked out makes some sort of provision for "must-carry" stations. It is local programming, generally news, that distinguishes watching TV in Detroit from Denver or Dallas. The homogenization of TV (and OK, malls and lots of aspects of American life) worries me. Maybe it's windmill-tilting, but I like being able to turn on a TV in a hotel and actually have some idea where the heck I am, besides seeing the "On the 8s" graphic on The Weather Channel.

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