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Policy

NCTA Rips Report on a la Carte Lobbying

10/08/2004 12:03 PM Eastern

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association Friday condemned a report alleging that cable money induced civil-rights groups and minority lawmakers to echo the industry’s strong opposition to a la carte pricing of cable channels.

The report, “Anatomy of a Lobbying Blitz,” released by the Center for Public Integrity, said minority lawmakers and groups like the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights followed the industry’s lead on the issue after receiving “hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations and other benefits” from Comcast Corp., Time Warner Inc., Viacom Inc. and the NCTA.

“The report is a baseless attempt to distract attention away from the widespread opposition to unnecessary regulation that would harm diversity in the media. By suggesting that independent individuals and organizations representing diverse audiences cannot express their own viewpoints in public discussion, the Center for Public Integrity has insulted each of the parties who have filed comments opposing a la carte,” NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz said.

The Federal Communications Commission is studying the a la carte issue, with a report due to Congress by Nov. 18.

The CPI lodged its allegations in an 11-page report “based on hundreds of filings” at the FCC and other records showing the cable industry’s financial ties to minority groups and lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and around the country who wrote the FCC that they opposed a la carte pricing.

Although the CPI report acknowledged that there was nothing unique to cable’s outreach to minorities, it called cable’s relationship with the minority groups and lawmakers “a highly sophisticated lobbying campaign” that attempted to portray minority opposition to a la carte as a “grassroots” endeavor.

“In fact, rather than being disinterested, these third parties have much to gain,” the CPI report said. “What’s not so common is for nationally recognized civil-rights leaders, members of Congress, city-council members and state legislators to sign their names to an industry-generated letter.”

Over the past two years, the CPI report found that Comcast, the NCTA, Time Warner and Viacom gave the CBC Foundation nearly $600,000 combined. Members of the CBC, who share close ties to the foundation, have been cable’s strongest supporters in Congress on the a la carte issue.

The CPI also documented that the Time Warner Foundation gave $400,000 to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a group that filed comments at the FCC opposing a la carte.

Cable-industry sources said the industry had every right to seek help on an issue that strikes at the economic fundamentals of the business. They said a la carte proponents coordinated their lobbying efforts, although the CPI report indicated the opposite.

A la carte refers to the sale of all or nearly all cable networks on an individual basis.

Cable companies sell the bulk of their programming in large tiers offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, although digital technology is affording consumers more and more individualized selections.

A la carte proponents say buying channels individually would lower bills and give consumers the option to reject programming they consider indecent and inappropriate for children.

The cable industry claims that a la carte would likely cause programming rates to rise, drive niche networks aimed at minority viewers from the market and force consumers to acquire set-top boxes they don’t want. Cable is also providing free set-tops to consumers who need them in order to block indecent programming.

September