I don’t own a riding mower. Don’t need one. Could care less about riding mowers. But I pay part of my subscription price to Consumer Reports for extensive reviews of riding mowers. They buy them, use them, have their testing folks spend time measuring how much grass the things cut, the size of the turning radius and the comfort of the seat. I subsidize all that with my subscription fee, whether I like it or not. I am exposed to the report in the bundle of articles that come in the magazine whether I want it in my home, or whether I want to let my kid see it or not. It’s part of the package. I can’t buy only the reports I want separately. Well, you know where I am going with this. And yes, before you send me e-mails, I know there is a difference between a magazine subscription and being a cable customer. But in both instances consumers are, by the very nature of the way these businesses are run, exposed to and paying for things they may not necessarily want or need in the particular, but find of value in the aggregate. We have to keep these sorts of examples in mind as the debate over a la carte gets louder. The basic arguments against government-mandated a la carte of all program channels are pretty clear. In my April 1 column, "An A La Carte Buffet," I ran through the basics, and noted that, happily, it appears many politicians and regulators are well aware of the pitfalls of a la carte. A few weeks later I had to make clear ("Too Subtle?" 4/15/04) that there is nothing inherently wrong with offering some programming on an individual channel basis – the industry has done that for years. HBO, Showtime, and now various ethnic channels all are offered that way. I suspect others will be added because of the economics of the given channel. But the key here is that it is the economics and market forces surrounding those offerings that make the difference, not government mandates. Most of that information showed up earlier this week in an article in The New York Times, which is indicative of the reporting on the "a la carte" issue. In the piece, the desire for customer control was balanced with the recognition that consumers may wind up paying more, not less, and that diversity may be hurt. It ended, however, on a sour note. CFA lobbyist Gene Kimmleman, while tacitly acknowledging that cable customers can block out anything they don’t want coming into their homes, complained that there is still reason to institute extensive government regulation on the marketplace because those customers don’t want to have to "pay" for things they don’t want or use. Well, "packaging" in most instances has that result. Cable is no different. We get horoscopes in newspapers even though some folks consider them heretical. We get a sports section whether we like it or not. I don’t go on most of the rides at Disneyland, but I pay a fee to get in, and then use what I want. The same is true for taxes and libraries. I oppose some of the lobbying positions advocated by CU, but it comes with the subscription. In each case we can talk about cross subsidy, or "paying for things I don’t want," like reviews of riding mowers. Consumers and businesses make those choices every day. Governments should not.