John McCain Bill Pushes A La Carte Cable Pricing

John McCain thinks people shouldn’t have to pay for cable television channels they don’t want and won’t watch, so the Arizona senator is introducing a bill that would encourage providers to offer a la carte pricing options.

The Republican senator introduced a bill before congress that would use regulator incentives to encourage programmers to unbundle their channels and allow consumers to pick which ones they want to pay for. Though considered a long shot for passage, the bill has support from advocacy groups like Consumers Union.

For John McCain, the need for a la carte cable pricing options is clear when looking at the rising prices for cable television.

“I believe the consumers are at a tipping point when it comes to their monthly pay-TV bill,” McCain told a Senate subcommittee last week. “In my view, the a la carte option is a non-regulatory and consumer-friendly way to provide consumers with the freedom to lower their bills and pay only for what they watch.”

Cable lobbyists have opposed McCain’s bill, saying it would likely mean the end of smaller and less popular channels. A la carte pricing wouldn’t bring much of an overall reduction in cable bills, they add.

Matt Ygleisas explains: “Cable is an industry with very high fixed costs and very little competition. Once a company has gone through the trouble of constructing a network that’s physically capable of delivering cable television to your neighborhood, the cost of actually delivering the shows is quite low.”

Opponents also point to the rise of internet-based programming options, like Hulu and Netflix, as evidence that the system can correct itself.

In all, McCain’s bid for a la carte cable pricing is likely to fail. Even McCain himself has admitted this.

“These are big issues, but is anything going to happen? No,” said A. Michael Noll, a University of Southern California professor emeritus and expert on telecommunications policy. “The cable companies have tremendous lobbying power — more power than John McCain.”

Supporters still hope McCain’s a la carte cable pricing bill goes through. Anything to give consumers more flexibility and control over the rising cost of cable will be good for the whole industry in the long run, they say.