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Why consumer advocates think a la carte cable programming could benefit you

Consumer Reports News

Are you tired of paying for cable channels that you never watch? So is Senator John McCain: He's introduced the Television Consumer Freedom Act of 2013, a bill that would offer incentives to cable companies to offer what's called "a la carte" programming options, allowing consumers to buy cable channels individually. Today Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports, has announced its endorsement of Senator McCain's bill.

When McCain introduced the bill, he explained that the legislation has three principal objectives: to "encourage the wholesale and retail 'unbundling' of programming by distributors and programmers; establish consequences if broadcasters choose to 'downgrade' their over-the-air service; and eliminate the sports blackout rule for events held in publicly-financed stadiums."

Critics of the anti-bundling position maintain that a la carte cable programming could reduce channel diversity; smaller channels might not survive if they depended entirely on individual subscriptions. But some viewers grumble about paying a premium for pricey channels that come bundled in with those they may not ever watch: For example, while most cable channels account for pennies per month of your programming bill, sports network ESPN commands $5 of the average expanded-basic monthly TV bill.

Delara Derakhshani, policy counsel for Consumers Union, said, "The average cable TV bill for expanded basic service has gone up 6.1 percent a year, every year, from 1995 through 2011. These days, cable customers have to buy larger and larger packages of channels just to get the handful of channels they want. You shouldn't have to pay for dozens of channels you don't watch. We have long argued that 'cable a la carte' would be a big boost for consumer choice. We support Senator McCain's bill because it would create incentives for cable companies to offer consumers more choice over what they pay to watch."

Senator McCain testified today about his legislation at a Senate Commerce hearing on "The State of Video".

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