A vision for ???local choice??? TV still alive on Capitol Hill

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WASHINGTON ??? Concerns about higher consumer prices if cable and satellite customers could unsubscribe from local channels they didn???t watch stalled a move on Capitol Hill to create a la carte local TV. But the proposal???s champions are fighting to keep the idea alive.

In August, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Ranking Member John Thune, R-S.D., proposed cable and satellite subscribers only pay for the local channels they use, calling it ???Local Choice.???

The lobbying war between cable and broadcasters that ensued over the issue in August ultimately led to the proposal???s defeat Thursday before the committee considered it as part of the Satellite Television Access and Viewer Rights Act.

Speaking to a small gathering of reporters Tuesday, Thune called the idea the ???ultimate free-market approach??? in addressing the continued fighting between cable and broadcasters.

???In the way the bill was designed, you would have to opt-out, it???s not like you opt-in,??? said Thune, who hopes the proposal generates broader discussion for next year.

For cable providers, who have generally resisted ???unbundling??? ??? allowing subscribers to only pay for channels they consume ??? Local Choice would create an option to combat rising prices for their customers.

Broadcasters and advertisers resisted the proposal, saying it undermines consumers??? right to free-over-the-air programming guaranteed by law.

For Thune, the expected increase in broadcaster revenue from retransmission consentnegotiations ??? which, he says, has already reached $4 billion per year ??? will continue to drive up bills for people already unhappy with their cable providers.

???We???ll see, we???re open to other ideas. This was one idea we thought was thoughtful, innovative, consumer oriented, free-market driven,??? said Thune.

Should Republicans gain a Senate majority after the November midterm elections, Thune, the ranking member of the Senate???s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, is in line to take the top spot on the committee.

Rockefeller, a five-term senator, is set to retire at the end of his term this year.

???There may be other ideas out there, and we certainly welcome those. And I know that broadcasters would prefer we that we approach this in a different idea, and we???re open to ideas they have, too,??? he said.