Cablevision Systems Chairman Charles Dolan said letting cable-television customers order only the channels they want won't hurt cable providers...

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Cablevision Systems Chairman Charles Dolan said letting cable-television customers order only the channels they want won’t hurt cable providers or networks.

Customers would benefit from so-called à la carte service, Dolan said, echoing comments made this week by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin.

“Like Chairman Martin, we do not believe in the long term that selling programming à la carte will be detrimental to either programmers or cable operators,” Dolan, founder of Cablevision, the biggest cable provider in the New York area, said Thursday in a statement.

AT&T, which is moving into the subscription television business, also said Thursday it would be willing to allow customers to pay for only the television channels they want.

AT&T Inc., which recently was formed after SBC Communications bought AT&T Corp., for the first time publicly took a position on the matter, expressing its willingness to offer a per-channel pricing.

“If consumers want à la carte programming, we will be happy to offer it, so long as we are able to obtain access to the programming in that manner,” said AT&T spokeswoman Claudia Jones.

“It is our goal to deliver more choices to our customers when they want it, in the way they want it,” she said.

Cablevision’s Dolan is the first leader of a U.S. cable company to endorse the pricing system after Martin signaled the FCC might support the practice. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), which represents companies including Comcast, said this week it would result in fewer channels.

“Consumers should not be obliged directly or indirectly to buy services they do not want,” Dolan, 79, said.

Dolan made similar remarks in May 2003 to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation. Consumers increasingly have greater choice, he said at the time, as to what television programming they want to watch and pay for.

It would take an “industry shift” for channel-purchase choices to be available to consumers, Cablevision spokesman Jim Maiella said in a telephone interview, because programmers are not required to sell channels piecemeal.

Time Warner’s cable-television unit also operates in New York. Its spokesman, Mark Harrad, didn’t return a call for comment.

Comcast’s Tim Fitzpatrick, spokesman for the largest cable-television company in the U.S., had no comment.

A NCTA spokesman declined to comment on Cablevision’s and AT&T’s statements but said the government should not interfere with programming deals.

“We don’t support unnecessary government intrusion into private marketplace negotiations,” said NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz.

Information about AT&T’s statement and NCTA spokesman’s comments provided by Reuters.