Responding to calls from conservative groups for tighter standards for decency in broadcasting, the chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission has raised the option of allowing pay television viewers to pick their own channels, setting up a potentially costly brawl with the cable and satellite industries.
My first reaction reading about this in my morning paper was, "My Gawd, what new stupidity hath the FCC wrought?"
Then I thought about it some more. There are a whole host of things wrong with this notion of letting people pick cable channels a la carte. The first thing that comes to mind is that it will allow people to essentially dig themselves deeper into an ideological sinkhole. Conservatives will pick Fox News and hear no opinions that they disagree with through their idiot boxes, resulting in yet another echo chamber situation.
Secondly, how will new cable channels get started without a guaranteed distribution right off the bat?
Thirdly, isn't this against everything I ever read from Ayn Rand? Umm, yeah.
Then again, think about the upsides. It's certainly a blow struck for consumer choice. Such a move would simply usher in the age of Citizen Media even more quickly than it's currently speeding toward us. Think about what the world would look like if broadcast and cable relinquished one of the few advantages it still has over emerging media - its penetration into households.
The advertiser community would have a collective conniption, and the siphoning of emerging media ad dollars from broadcast and cable budgets would accelerate greatly. (Back up a dump truck!)
Most likely, this is just more posturing by the FCC. But what if it wasn't? Strategically, I'd let them have their way with this one and then fight them tooth and nail on regulation of the Internet and satellite, armed with the notion that the FCC's mandate doesn't apply when bandwidth isn't constrained by geography and signal strength as is the case with terrestrial radio and TV stations.
If this is real, then the FCC has pushed a good chunk of its chips to the center of the poker table. It's time to call their bluff.