FCC chairman Kevin Martin is banging on his a la carte drum again. Sources say the chairman is floating a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on a la carte as part of an order that would extend program access rules for 5 years (they’re set to sunset in Oct).

The NPRM proposes that under Sect. 628 (b) of the Communications Act, satellite-delivered cable programming be offered a la carte, according to sources. It’s unclear, but it appears the order proposes that all satellite-delivered nets (most cable nets) be offered a la carte—not just satellite-programming that is vertically integrated with a cable operator.

It’s unclear how the FCC would back such a stance, seeing as the agency has said Congress would have to mandate a la carte because it lacks the authority. The NPRM would seek comment on whether the Commission should require terrestrially delivered cable programming nets (like Comcast SportsNet Philly) to be offered a la carte. It would also seek comment on how retrans consent negotiations work when broadcasters tie carriage of their broadcast signals with other affiliated programming.

Martin has repeatedly made the case for so-called "cable choice." In April, a FCC report on TV violence asserted that a la carte programming options would help protect children. The FCC Media Bureau had no comment.

Meanwhile, civil rights groups held a conference call with reporters Thursday to express disappointment with Martin’s response to their call for an apology and retraction after he suggested that civil rights groups opposed a la carte regulations because they receive money from cable operators and programmers.

"We have not been purchased by the cable industry to make this statement," said Hispanic Federation pres Lillian Rodriguez-Lopez, adding that her group receives "minimal" support from cable. In full disclosure, she told reporters she also co-chairs the NCTA-funded Broadband Everywhere, a lobbying group fighting national franchising.

Hispanics in Telecom and Technology Partnership co-chair Manny Mirabal and National Congress of Black Women chair Faye Williams each estimated that their groups get less than 1% of funding from cable. "We have the right to weigh in without being accused of being inside someone’s pocket," Rodriguez-Lopez said.

Martin told the groups Wednesday that he had the utmost respect for their organizations and apologized if his comments "led some to believe otherwise." The chairman said he was referring to a Center for Public Integrity study that concluded that "grassroots" opposition to a la carte is actually a highly sophisticated lobbying campaign with some of these groups getting hundreds of thousands of dollars and other benefits from cable.

Willams accused Martin’s a la carte stance as "pandering to the religious wing of the far right." Rodriguez-Lopez said the chmn’s real interest in a la carte is to give a "few ultra right wing groups" the ability to censor programming. (Who knew Gene Kimmelman was a Right Winger?).

An FCC spokesman declined comment beyond Martin’s Wednesday letter to the groups (Cfax, 8/23).

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