May 29, 2008 / 9:11 PM / 10 years ago

Minority groups oppose FCC "a la carte" proposal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than a dozen minority groups voiced opposition on Thursday to a proposal being studied by regulators that would force television programmers to offer their most popular cable channels on a stand-alone basis.

Fifteen groups, including the National Congress of Black Women and the Hispanic Federation, complained in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission that requiring the channels to be offered separately to cable operators would “wreak havoc on diversity” on cable television.

The groups cited concerns that such a rule, know as “wholesale a la carte,” would be a financial blow to niche, minority channels because it would untie them from the most popular channels.

“Wholesale a la carte would strike a deadly blow at this virtuous (tying) cycle by eradicating the benefits of bundling,” the groups argued.

The idea, floated earlier this year by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, would impose the a la carte requirement on a small number of more expensive channels like Walt Disney Co’s sports channel ESPN.

It has sparked fierce opposition from television programmers, who say it would require consumers to pay extra for channels they now get as part of a basic cable package.

Martin’s wholesale a la carte idea came after he was unsuccessful in earlier efforts to get cable operators themselves to offer channels on an a la carte basis.

An FCC spokesman said in response to the letter that the FCC was currently studying the effects of channel-tying to see “how this practice impacts consumers who may bear the costs of unwanted programming in the form of higher prices.”

“This is also a particularly important issue for small (cable) operators and for operators who serve rural communities,” the FCC spokesman said.

Editing by Carol Bishopric

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