There is another push on to force cable and satellite systems to go a la carte — each subscriber would order and pay for only the channels he/she actually watches.

Which, on the surface, seems like a great idea. Studies indicate that even in homes that receive hundreds of channels, the majority of viewing is on fewer than 10 channels and fewer than 20 are watched for any significant length of time.

If I never watch MTV, why should I be forced to pay for MTV?

If I go to the grocery store to buy bread, milk and eggs, should I be forced to buy beer and pretzels?

But ... as with so many things that seem so simple, the question of cable choice is a great deal more complicated. The simple fact is that if cable choice were to go into effect, most of our cable choices would disappear.

The vast majority of cable networks survive on the income from cable subscribers. When you pay your bill every month, a few cents up to a couple dollars goes to each channel that is "bundled" in whatever package you're paying for.

So, you ask, why not just get rid of the least popular channels? Isn't that how the free-market system works?

But if you ever watch A&E, AMC, BBC America, Biography, Bravo, CMT, CNBC, DIY, E!, ESPN Classic, ESPNews, ESPNU, Fox College Sports, Fox Soccer, Fuel TV, Fuse, FX, GAC, G4, Golf, GSN, Independent Film, Military, MSNBC, National Geographic, Oxygen, Science, Sci Fi, SoapNet, Speed, Style, Sundance, Turner Classic Movies, Travel, TLC, TV Land, USA, Versus — to name just a few — you're going to be out of luck.

Most (if not all) of these channels would not survive. Instead of hundreds of channels, there might be a couple dozen.

And even the most popular channels, like Nickelodeon and ESPN, would have to start charging HBO-like subscription fees every month, for example.

So a la carte could mean fewer choices and higher prices.

The current push to convince the Federal Communications Commission to force cable and satellite companies to offer channels a la carte comes from groups claiming to work for the good of families and children. They're determined to keep channels like MTV, Spike and FX out of their homes.

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What they're overlooking is that a lot of great kids channels would disappear if they get their way. Nickelodeon and the Disney Channels would no doubt survive, but the chances of Discovery Kids, Animal Planet, Toon Disney, Noggin, ABC Family and Hallmark surviving in an a la carte world are slim to none.

I urge parents to regulate what their kids watch. I support keeping kids from watching channels that are inappropriate for them.

But we already have that capability — not only can our TVs block channels, but so can our cable and satellite systems.

In theory, a la carte sounds like a great idea. In practice, it would be anything but.


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com