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Cable Could Be Off House a la Carte Hook

5/05/2004 10:35 AM Eastern

House rules are an obstacle to including cable a la carte mandates in a bill intended to allow direct-broadcast satellite carriers to retransmit local-TV signals, Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) said Wednesday.

Under House rules, Deal would have difficulty demonstrating that cable a la carte provisions could be attached to satellite legislation without running afoul of germaneness requirements.

"I am bound by the issue of germaneness on the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act," he told reporters.

Deal expects a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee to raise the germaneness issue in an effort to knock cable a la carte from the bill. No date has been set for full committee action on the SHVIA bill.

The rules snafu requires Deal to decide whether to drop his a la carte effort entirely or to narrow its scope to include just EchoStar Communications Corp. and DirecTV Inc.

"I think I'm going to have to limit it to satellite," Deal said, adding that EchoStar has indicated support for his legislation.

Deal floated an amendment last week that would require programming networks to allow cable and DBS to sell their services a la carte, although the distributors would be under no compulsion to actually do so.

Deal's approach -- condemned by the cable industry, except for small cable companies -- is different from the version offered by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who wants cable to offer consumers both programming tiers and a la carte for every channel.

McCain told reporters a la carte legislation was not dead in the Senate.

"I think there is a chance in the amending process because clearly, the pressure is building to allow the choice," he added. "The fascinating thing about the cable-TV companies [is that] they are saying it's either/or. We're just saying present two choices."

September