McCain introduces a la carte cable bill

Proponents of a la carte cable television pricing got a shot in the arm last week with Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) introduction of the Consumers Having Options in Cable Entertainment (CHOICE) Act of 2006.

The bill would allow cable subscribers to pick and choose among a cable system’s offerings and pay for only those channels they wish to receive.

In his comments June 7, made while introducing the CHOICE bill, McCain told colleagues cable companies have resisted a la carte and “have continued to give consumers all the ‘choice’ of a North Korean election ballot.”

McCain cited a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that found in communities with two cable companies competing for the same subscriber, rates are 15 percent lower than communities without competition. Another GAO study suggested that the existence of a cable competitor may reduce subscription rates by 41 percent. “Unfortunately, today less than 5 percent of communities have two companies competing to provide consumers cable television service,” said McCain.

According to the senator, his bill would inject competition into the cable market and thereby save consumers money. Pointing to a 58 percent hike in cable rates since 1996, McCain called on Congress to pass the act to remedy climbing subscription fees.

Citing USA Today/Gallup and AP/Ipsos polls, McCain said most Americans would like to buy cable channels individually. He also quoted a Nielsen Media Research poll that found households receiving more than 70 channels watch an average of about 17. Further, he said, the FCC has found consumers could save up to 13 percent on monthly bills if they could buy just the channels they want.