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CU Ask Senate Panel to Endorse A la Carte Cable Option

Thursday, March 25, 2004
Contact: Susan Herold

Consumers Union Tells Senate Panel ‘A la Carte’ Option Needed for Lower Cable TV Bills, Real Choice

(Washington, D.C.) – Consumers Union told the Senate Commerce Committee today that giving cable TV customers an “a la carte” option – the right to pick and pay only for the channels they want – will help lower skyrocketing cable bills and allow consumers to control the programming that comes into their homes.
“By requiring that cable operators offer a la carte programming in conjunction with any other packages they wish to offer, the power of the consumer’s pocketbook can be unleashed to begin to help lower costs, increase incentives for quality fare, and give viewers the opportunity to not pay for channels they find objectionable or too expensive,” said Gene Kimmelman, senior policy director for Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports.
The Senate is expected soon to take up legislation that would increase the fines on broadcasters for airing indecent content, and Kimmelman said the Senate should use this opportunity to address the a la carte issue.
Several key members of the Committee, including Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz), indicated support for giving consumers the option to pick and pay only for the channels they want — in addition to the traditional cable packages, or tiers, currently offered — as a way for families to save money and not purchase programming they may find offensive.
Kimmelman told the panel that since the industry was deregulated in 1996, not only have cable rates increased more than 50 percent – three times the rate of inflation – consumers have not realized the promised competition that deregulation was expected to spawn. In markets where 98 percent of Americans live, a single cable operator dominates. In the few areas where head-to-head competition exists, cable services are 15 to 41 percent cheaper than those areas without competition.
“The Federal Communications Commission has turned a blind eye to these problems,” Kimmelman said in asking Congress to force the FCC to do its job to ensure competition. “In the interim, we urge Congress to empower consumers so they can begin to lower their cable bills by allowing them to choose and pay only for those channels they watch.”
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