Senate Committee Rejects Cable ‘a la Carte’ Pricing

Jun 28, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday rejected Arizona Sen. John McCain’s latest attempt to require cable companies to allow customers to pay for only the channels they choose.

Committee members voted 20-2 to reject McCain’s proposal on so-called a la carte cable pricing, keeping the provision out of legislation that will ease the way for phone companies to field television services. Senators on Wednesday were discussing additions to the bill, which may bring the biggest changes in broadcast rules since the Telecom Reform Act of 1996.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association said it was “very pleased” with the defeat of the ala carte amendment.

“[We] will continue to oppose unnecessary government regulation of the pricing and packaging of video services, which most studies show will diminish diversity in programming and result in higher prices for fewer channels,” the group said in a statement.

The defeat of Mr. McCain’s amendment doesn’t spell the end for a la carte proposals. Two powerful senators promised the cable industry that a la carte pricing will become the norm.

“As a consumer, this is something that is going to come,” said Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss. “I would urge the industry to get on with this, because it is going to come. This is the last time I am going to vote against it.”

Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, also promised that “A la carte will come.”

Sen. McCain argued for a la carte, saying cable companies have exploited a monopoly position in some markets to force unwanted channels on consumers.

“Why have cable companies and programmers refused to give consumers what they want?” Mr. McCain said. “Because they are the only game in town and they don’t have to.”

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, was the only member of the committee to join Sen. McCain in supporting his a la carte amendment.

McCain said the current cable pricing system is unfair to consumers.

“Why should we, at an ever-increasing cost, force people to accept programming they don’t want to see?” he said. “We are paying more for channels consumers don’t want and cable companies get away with it for a long time. People who are retirees … don’t want to spend $3 for ESPN every month.”

The committee this afternoon was slated to consider the most controversial part of the legislation: a proposal that would bar Internet service providers from giving faster access to Web content providers who pay more.