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ACA: Big Programmers Deny Consumers Choice

7/13/2004 5:17 AM Eastern

Powerful cable programmers are using their muscle to block small cable operators from removing expensive sports channels and racy content from expanded basic in an effort to force consumers to buy as many cable networks as possible, according to the American Cable Association.

The ACA, in comments to be filed this week with the Federal Communications Commission, said many of its members would like to offer sports tiers and pull sexually suggestive networks from expanded basic, but the “big five” programmers won’t allow it.

“These restrictions and obligations eliminate the flexibility to offer more customized packages in local markets,” the trade group said. “For this to occur, certain media conglomerates would need to temper economic self-interest with a heightened concern for the public interest in localism, consumer choice and reasonable cable rates.”

The ACA represents 1,100 small cable companies serving about 8 million subscribers in all 50 states. As it has in the past, the group pinned the blame for a dysfunctional programming market on The Walt Disney Co., Viacom Inc., News Corp., NBC and Time Warner Inc.

At the request of Congress, the FCC is studying the feasibility of greater a la carte services provided by cable operators. Some in Congress view a la carte as a way of lowering cable bills and allowing parents to filter indecent programming.

While rejecting a la carte mandates, the ACA said programmers should be forced, through new laws or regulations, to allow distributors greater freedom in the retail packaging of cable networks.

“Current technology costs make pure a la carte a financial impossibility for ACA-member systems,” the group said.

 

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