The FCC is displaying all the unfortunate characteristics of the nation’s capital, where the modus operandi is decide first, justify later. Ideology and preconception foreshadow desired results, which are then "justified" with dubious legal and economic explanations. This is not unique to the current administration, mind you, but it’s become blatant. SMART POLITICS, BAD POLICY The concept of checks and balances disappears when decisions can be announced and publicized before any checking can be done. The headlines are history by the time justifications are published and analyzed. The facts often don’t ever get into print. They’re considered old news, and that’s exactly the way the decision announcers want it. The "new and improved" study by the FCC Mass Media Bureau on the alleged viability of a la carte cable offerings is a classic example of the way the game is being played. A series of thorough economic studies, one by the Government Accountability Office and another by the FCC, based on not one, but numerous economic impact filings, resulted in unanimous conclusions well over a year ago that mandated a la carte was not good public policy. The numbers indicated that consumers would wind up paying more for less. In addition, there was a significant danger that programming diversity would suffer. Those conclusions have not been refuted. A new chairman of the FCC, however, has a well-articulated position on an ancillary issue: He is concerned about "indecency" in television programming. He announced several months ago one solution to that problem might be offering programming a la carte. He also announced that he had ordered the very same people who had studied and authored the first report to go back and look at it again. In other words, massage the numbers until they come out right. He testified before Congress that, lo and behold, they had, and the agency was characterized as reversing its position on the viability of a la carte. And so, not surprisingly, the study has finally appeared. It should be noted that the commission has not voted on the issue. This is just a study by one bureau, albeit released with much righteous fanfare. The fanfare notes that some of the numbers calculated in one filing in the earlier study were in error. That error was acknowledged last year and corrected with the notation that it did not change any conclusions regarding the potential negative influence of a la carte, but never mind, it gave a great excuse to reverse course. The government decided first, then attempted to justify later. Steve Effros was formerly president of the Cable Telecommunications Association and an FCC attorney. Currently a columnist and consultant in the cable industry, he can be reached at steve@effros.com.

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