Mt. Vernon Register-News

Features

May 14, 2013

What if you could pay for cable channels a la carté?

WASHINGTON — It's time to let television viewers buy individual channels, rather than being required to pay for bundles of programming, Sen. John McCain told a Senate panel Tuesday.

"Consumers shouldn't have to pay for television channels they don't watch, and have no interest in watching," said McCain, R-Ariz., who has introduced legislation to force cable and direct-broadcast satellite companies to offer channels individually, or a la carte.

Cable rates have attracted congressional scrutiny before Tuesday's hearing at the communications subcommittee led by Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark. The market isn't working for consumers who are paying more for TV service, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the West Virginia Democrat who is chairman of the Commerce Committee that houses the subcommittee, said at a July hearing.

Consumers Union, an advocacy group based in Yonkers, New York that works for fair markets, has endorsed McCain's bill.

"Cable customers have to buy larger and larger packages of channels," Delara Derakhshani, policy counsel, said in an emailed statement.

The average cable bill for expanded basic service - the most popular channels package - increased 6.1 percent annually from 1995 through 2011, rising from $22.25 to $57.46, the Federal Communications Commission said in a report last year. The number of channels in such a package rose to 124, from 44, the FCC said. The price per channel dropped three cents, to 57 cents, the agency said.

Consumers are watching more TV each year, and "the value of cable's video service continues to be the best of any form of entertainment at just 23 cents per viewing hour," Brian Dietz, a spokesman for the Washington-based National Cable & Telecommunications Association trade group, or NCTA, said in an email.

McCain's bill would deny licensing privileges to pay-TV companies that don't offer programming for purchase separately, and would keep broadcasters from demanding retransmission fees if they don't let their channels be sold a la carte.

The measure also would require non-broadcasters such as Viacom Inc. to offer programming individually to pay-TV companies. In addition, it would revoke an airwaves license from a broadcaster that doesn't send an over-the-air signal identical to the signal sent through pay-TV companies.

CBS and Fox have said they may go off the air if courts don't block Barry Diller's Aereo Inc., which accesses broadcast TV signals and resells them online for $8 to $12 a month - without paying a retransmission fee.

No hearing date has been set for the bill, and no votes have been taken.

It's unlikely the bill will pass, "but it is still relatively early" in the congressional session that runs through next year, Paul Gallant, Washington-based managing director at Guggenheim Securities, said in a note yesterday. McCain doesn't sit on the Commerce Committee that handles TV legislation and it's not clear if Rockefeller will push the issue, Gallant said.

McCain, the Republican Party's presidential nominee in 2008, can bring attention to the issue, Gallant said.

Cable and broadcast groups in testimony submitted to Pryor's committee said changes aren't needed.

"The system is not broken" and changing laws that govern programming distribution "is not in the public's best interest," Gordon Smith, president of the National Association of Broadcasters, said in testimony submitted to the panel. Members of the Washington-based trade group include Walt Disney Co.'s ABC, News Corp.'s Fox, Comcast Corp.'s NBC and CBS Corp.

Lawmakers generally don't need to intervene in the marketplace, which is competitive, Michael Powell, NCTA president, said in written testimony for the subcommittee. Members of the Washington-based trade group include largest U.S. cable company Comcast, based in Philadelphia, and New York-based Time Warner Cable Inc., the second-largest.

 

1
Text Only
Features
  • Allergies are the real midlife crisis

    One of the biggest mysteries is why the disease comes and goes, and then comes and goes again. People tend to experience intense allergies between the ages of 5 and 16, then get a couple of decades off before the symptoms return in the 30s, only to diminish around retirement age.

    April 15, 2014

  • Screen shot 2014-04-11 at 4.49.09 PM.png Train, entertain your pets with these 3 smartphone apps

    While they may not have thumbs to use the phone, pets can benefit from smartphone apps designed specifically for them.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Millions of Android phones, tablets vulnerable to Heartbleed bug

    Millions of smartphones and tablets running Google's Android operating system have the Heartbleed software bug, in a sign of how broadly the flaw extends beyond the Web and into consumer devices.

    April 11, 2014

  • DayCareCosts.jpg Day care's cost can exceed college tuition in some states

    Most parents will deal with an even larger kid-related expense long before college, and it's a cost that very few of them are as prepared for: day care.

    April 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • 10 tips for surviving a severe allergy season

    My colleague Brady Dennis reported recently that the arrival of warmer weather will soon unleash a pollen tsunami in parts of the country where the winter has been especially long and cold. Here are some survival tips from Clifford W. Bassett, an allergy specialist and assistant clinical professor of medicine at the New York University School of Medicine.

    April 9, 2014

  • To get quality care, it helps to be the right kind of patient

    I am a family physician. Sometimes I must step out of the comfort of my clinical role and into that of patient or family caregiver. Generally, these trips to the other side of the exam table inspire a fair amount of anxiety.

    April 8, 2014

  • A man with amnesia taught us how memories become personal

    Although not as celebrated as the late American amnesiac H.M., for my money K.C. taught us more important and poignant things about how memory works. He showed how we make memories personal and personally meaningful. He also had a heck of a life story.

    April 7, 2014

  • Long-term unemployed are still strong hires, study shows

    People who have been out of work for an extended period, once hired, tend to be just as productive on the job as those with more typical work histories, according to an analysis of almost 20,000 employees.

    April 4, 2014

  • Hate With Friends, the fun new Facebook tool

    Hating movies, earworms, conventions of grammar, clothing brands, diet fads - you get the twinkle of pleasure without the glob of guilt, or the cold brush of fear. A Coldplay song doesn't know you hate it.

    April 2, 2014

  • how-i-met-your-mother.jpg Legendary? Breaking down the HIMYM finale on social media

    After nine years and more than 200 episodes, the landmark CBS sitcom "How I Met Your Mother" wrapped up Monday night with several twists in the story that left its fans sharply divided. Here is a sampling of viewer reaction.

    April 1, 2014 1 Photo

Twitter Updates
Facebook
Stocks