Is al la Carte Cable in the future?
"When I go to the grocery store to buy a quart of milk, I don't have to buy a package of celery and a bunch of broccoli," McCain said in an interview on Wednesday. "I don't like broccoli." He argues that it's not an either-or situation for cable companies: They could continue to offer packages for consumers who wanted them and a la carte for other viewers.
In the interview, McCain said he probably would propose an amendment this year -- it could be attached to an authorization or spending bill, he said -- requiring cable companies to offer a la carte programming.
Hmm, I sure hope so. If it is, we may all have Janet Jackson to thank.
The industry is also under attack from people upset about content they consider indecent. Government decency rules and fines apply only to channels broadcast over the public airwaves, not to cable and satellite television, because courts have reasoned that subscribers elected to receive them. But McCain, FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps and others have proposed extending the FCC's enforcement powers to cable channels because the industry does not give consumers enough options to drop individual channels they find objectionable.
The cable industry opposes the move. As an alternative, the cable industry's major trade group, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, said earlier this week that the nation's cable companies would give consumers -- at no cost -- the equipment needed to block unwanted cable channels in their homes.
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Lautenberg applauded the cable industry's decision to pass out free channel-blocking hardware, but said that's not enough.
"The logical next step," Lautenberg said, "is to relieve consumers of the burden of paying for channels they don't watch."
We can only hope. I pay close to $80 a month for a load of crap on Cox Cable. All I really want is the four networks, the weather channel, foxnews and discovery (so I can watch Orange County Choppers). I probably would also keep AMC and the other free classic movie channel (Turner Classic?) but could care less about MTV and VH1 and Lifetime and Oxygen and CNN and MSNBC, etc. etc. etc. Unfortunately, in order to get Fox News I need to buy one of the premium packages, subjecting me to ridiculous charges. Its just not available a la carte (is this part of the great left wing conspiracy???)
Now, its true that I generally despise government regulation in all forms.
"It's far too presumptuous to tell an industry how to market its product," said Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), another committee member.However, the cable universe is different. For one, in most areas cable operators still maintain a monopoly. I have to get Cox. I can't get Time Warner cable. I can't get Jones. I can't get anything else. I tried both DirectTV and the Dish Network. Neither will work in my neighborhood (no clear path to the satellite through trees my wife won't cut down). So I am left with a monopoly that subjects me to outrageous pricing and forces me to subsidize channels I neither approve of politically or have any desire to watch. As far as I am concerned, Congress needs to break them up further.