No Escape from a La Carte

Think Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin is going to soften his stance on a la carte?

Think again.

This week, the leader of the Portals made more comments on the touchy issue, insisting that he isn't dropping the a la carte push. Martin told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that he remains enthusiastic about program choice for consumers, though he admitted the FCC remains powerless to force MSOs into an a la carte regime.

Still, that isn't stopping Martin from pursuing the issue from different angles.

For starters, the commission could insert itself into negotiations between cable operators and programmers, scrutinizing specific conditions for carriage of key content brands.

The scrutiny of programming deals is the latest twist on the topic. And the issue could work out for some cable folks, given Martin's complaints about programmers bundling a set of channels into a single carriage deal.

Small cable interests - and the FCC chairman - have complained about the program tying move, saying MSOs shouldn't be forced to deliver other channels in order to gain access to one core television property.

Martin warmed up to small cable this week on another matter, telling a gathering of the American Cable Association that he has a plan to alleviate some of the broadcast carriage concerns of operators with capacity-strained systems. In a proposal some are calling a good compromise on the digital broadcast carriage subject, Martin has floated a pending order that would exempt capacity-strained systems from a 2001 obligation to deliver must-carry HD signals from broadcasters.

Nonetheless, cable remains in a very uncomfortable position with the FCC chairman, thanks mostly to a la carte. And most people in the business know they will be in that tight regulatory spot until Martin finally departs his position at the agency.