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CU applauds Senator McCain’s efforts to offer options in cable TV

June 7, 2006

Statement of Gene Kimmelman Vice President, Federal and International Affairs Consumers Union on
The Consumers Having Options in Cable Entertainment (CHOICE) Act

Consumers Union applauds Senator McCain’s efforts to promote greater consumer choice over the cable channels offered to them. With cable prices skyrocketing by 68 percent since Congress passed the 1996 Telecommunications Act, consumers badly need relief from the bloated and costly cable packages forced on them.
While we are unable to endorse the specific incentives the bill offers to cable providers to make a la carte programming available, we support the spirit of the legislation to promote greater consumer choice; enhance competition in cable programming that better reflects consumers’ demand for diverse and independent programming; and to prohibit anti-competitive bundling by large media conglomerates.
Specifically, we support Senator McCain’s effort to prevent broadcasters from requiring cable distributors to carry and pay for all of a broadcaster’s cable channels?a practice that has forced large bundles of costly and unwanted cable channels on consumers. In addition, we strongly support extension to the Internet of current prohibitions on cable operators’ coercive tactics to block programmers from using other distribution systems for program delivery. The Internet is becoming an important and less expensive alternative to cable companies as a source of video programming. It’s critical that cable distributors be prevented from using their considerable cable and broadband market power to prevent programmers from distributing their content via the Internet.
However, we are unable to endorse this legislation because it goes too far in eliminating important public obligations of video service providers to ensure nondiscriminatory delivery of cable service, diversity of local programming, and essential consumer protections, including the timely and successful resolution of consumer complaints.
We look forward to working with Senator McCain to address these concerns to ensure that consumers have both better choices of cable programming at lower costs and meaningful protections against abusive practices where robust competition fails to take hold.
Contact: Jeannine Kenney, (202) 462-6262