- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 16, 2005

In an effort to thwart ongoing criticism of indecent and often obscene television programming, the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) recently announced a $250 million campaign to educate consumers on rating systems and parental block devices (also known as V-chips).

What NCTA fails to address are the real concerns of pro-family groups about cable programming: We don’t want to subsidize programs that, by any standard, promote immorality most Americans find offensive.

We can all agree parents should monitor what their children watch on television. However, NCTA’s $250 million V-chip campaign completely misses the point.

For years, the cable industry has dismissed legitimate consumer concerns about virtually everything — skyrocketing prices, poor service, service outages and trashy programming. Cable can get away with dismissing customers’ concerns because, with the exception of satellite, they have few competitors.

The cable industry is in almost as many households as broadcast television (73 million), and has exclusive franchise agreements with tens of thousands of local municipalities across the country that protect the industry from competition. That’s probably why, when the NCTA head was asked if the industry would consider offering consumers “family friendly” program packages to subscribers, he felt comfortable saying, “The answer is no.”

Cable television is a “take it or leave it” proposition. Unlike most industries in America, there are few viable competitors for consumers to turn to if fed up with their cable providers. Because pro-family consumers have few other options, they have rallied around the only option open to them, a la carte pricing, which offers consumers choice of which channels they want to pay for — nothing more, nothing less.

Unsurprisingly, NCTA and the cable companies fervently oppose a la carte. They use the tired argument that government shouldn’t regulate the “free market” but conveniently fail to mention that virtually nowhere in the country are there viable, healthy competitors to the cable industry.

Even in Washington, D.C., the local cable giant Comcast has unilaterally decided not to broadcast the new Washington Nationals baseball games while it settles a legal dispute. Millions want to see the games, but instead Comcast carries re-runs of such stellar programs as “Girlfriends.”

Imagine if a car dealer could work out a franchise arrangement to be the only car dealer in your town. Naturally, the dealer would insist you purchase a car with all of the bells and whistles, whether you wanted them or not. That is exactly what the cable television industry is doing. With a la carte pricing, you choose the programming you want, not the programming the cable company insists you take.

Socially conservative organizations are calling on Congress to act. The cable industry has made its opinion on consumer demand crystal clear — you can’t even get to the table if their declared position is an unequivocal “no.” American families held hostage to the cable industry’s hubris deserve the opportunity to be heard and have their concerns addressed. When a monopoly says “no,” it’s time for Congress to say “yes.”

Beverly LaHaye is the president and founder of Concerned Women for America.

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