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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A La Carte Again
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The report this morning in Tech Daily [subscription required] and elsewhere that FCC may reverse course and endorse a la carte pricing for cable operators is disappointing. Just last year the FCC released a report that said such pricing is not likely to benefit consumers.

Regardless whether the FCC now flip-flops, the real--and fundamental--point is that in today's marketplace it is clear that if there is a real demand for a la carte pricing for cable channels, or different channel packaging than now exists, the marketplace will move in that direction. The technology will enable the delivery of programming in a way that ultimately satisfies consumer demand so that overall consumer welfare is enhanced.

Whatever might have been the merits of regulating the packaging of cable programming in the past, the government should not succumb to the temptation to do so now. There are lots of items that I might wish were offered in different sizes or amounts and at different prices--but, rightly, I have to rely on the marketplace, not the government, to make those decisions.

Yes, I know. There are people that say that the real reason to mandate a la carte is to allow parents to only pay for the "family-friendly" channels they want, not the "un-family-friendly" ones they don't. Put aside for the moment the available parental content controls which go a long way towards addressing that issue. I think we still remain free even to choose not to hook-up the service if we want. (Personal note: That's what I did until my kids went away to college. They had to go elsewhere to watch MTV or worse (or better), and I survived too.

Speaking of rights, here's the rub: The Constitution doesn't create a right that entitles everyone to have cable television in their home at government-regulated rates and on government-mandated terms. But it does contain a First Amendment that prohibits government from making laws that regulate speech and a Fifth Amendment that prohibits government from taking property without just compensation. It seems to me that a law mandating a la carte is likely to run afoul of either or both of these constitutional prohibitions.

The FCC should not go there.

posted by Randolph May @ 10:16 AM |

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