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SUNDAY, DECEMBER 4,2005
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EDITORIAL

Pick-and-pay cable TV idea loaded with merit

People younger than baby boomers probably don't remember the day when television consisted of no more than four channels. In Alabama, it was ABC, NBC, CBS and Alabama Public television.

Then came cable television that piped in stations from Atlanta and Nashville and Chicago, giving viewers more choices. Today, most people get a package of stations they don't want simply to get a few channels they like. For instance, to get ESPN and ESPN2, local viewers must surf a sea of mediocrity. Why should cable companies force viewers to pay for a channel devoted to cooking or religion or old movies? Conservative groups' impatience with what the industry passes off as family television is justified. Even with filters that keep the raunchy programs away from children, they don't like paying to subsidize these marginal stations.

The idea of allowing viewers to buy only the channels they want resurfaced in Washington last week as part of the government's attempt to do something about the really bad stuff on television without embracing censorship.

"A la carte" pricing would allow consumers to look at the menu of programs and order from it just as they order food in a restaurant.

Industry opponents say "a la carte" pricing would force some weak stations off the air because of their low ratings.

Television packaging makes no more sense than forcing Decatur residents to take The Huntsville Times when they buy THE DECATUR DAILY.

The packaging is as annoying as needing two wood screws to complete a project but having to buy a package of seven.

Television's future as the great educator of the masses started its transition into "a vast wasteland" in the 1960s. Today, most of what's on television isn't fit to watch.

But the nation doesn't need government making the decision about what people watch.

Thus, the sensible solution is to force cable and satellite companies to offer "a la carte" programs within a price structure that doesn't discriminate against viewers who opt for that discriminating package.

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