Conservative leaders– including Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Tory Party – are pushing for a new cable TV model that would greatly benefit consumers and families. The problem for Americans is that it’s happening in Canada.

Last year, Harper and his party began an effort to “unbundle” cable programming.  In other words, their aim is to give consumers and families a wider swath of options to choose their own cable television programming.  Prices for cable television in Canada have skyrocketed in recent years and at even faster rate than the typical 5-7 percent increase Americans have come to expect every year, no matter what:

Based on figures from Statistics Canada’s database, evidence suggests the cost of having cable-TV and telephone service in Canada has surged since the end of the great 2008-09 recession, at a faster pace than price increases for groceries and shelter. Meanwhile, the price of cable-TV in the U.S. advanced at half the Canadian pace over the same period, while phone costs dropped.

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Now Harper’s plans to make consumer-friendly moves are coming to fruition:

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, known as the CRTC, is proposing a slimmer basic cable service — limited to local channels, educational services and feeds from provincial legislatures — that might be capped at C$20 to C$30 a month. After buying the basic pack, consumers would be able to pay per channel or build their own packages with just the channels they want.

Imagine that! Beyond a basic fee-for-service, the Canadian government is pushing to simply allow customers to pick and pay for only what they want to watch.

In other words, it’s a free market!

The Parents Television Council (which is non-partisan) and many other consumer and pro-family organizations (both liberal and conservative) here in the U.S. have been pushing for a similar solution that is soon to be enjoyed by our neighbors to the north. It’s an idea that makes sense in every living room in the country, but gets thwarted in the maze of money, power and influence in Washington.

Conservative leaders in America especially should take heed. 

If conservatives in Canada can stand up to corporate interests to do what’s right for consumers and families, then so can policymakers in America. It’s a potential political boon for any politician willing to do the same, since polling indicates that 73 percent of Americans want more choice in their cable packages.

After all, consumers are salivating for a way that will drive down their cable bills. A 2006 study by the FCC found that consumers could save as much as 13 percent on their cable bills with a cable choice solution. As conservatives know, competition and free markets drive prices down for everyone.

Consumers – particularly families – hunger for a way to not have to pay for and subsidize networks they may not like, such as MTV, when all they may want is access to the Disney Channel, or other more family-oriented networks. For example, parents have to pay for VH1 and its naked reality show – “Dating Naked” – even though they may not want their children to stumble across or have access to watch a show that features adults in the nude (with minimal pixilation of private parts).

Conservatives, would your constituents pay for that content if given a free market choice? Clearly not.

The cable industry operates with thousands of municipally-granted franchises, essentially giving companies government-granted monopolistic control over wireline networks, while at the same time the entire industry functions like a cartel, mandating carriage – and payment – for programming there is simply no market demand for, but it doesn’t have to be this way.   There are several measures that would offer consumers and families more and better choices in the cable television lineups – like Sen. McCain’s (R-Ariz.) “a la carte” bill  or new “Local Choice” legislation, favored by Sen. Thune (R-S.D.), aimed at the broadcast network side of the equation
It’s time for a real free market in cable programming. 

It’s time for cable choice to make its way to the U.S.A.

Isett is the director of communications and policy for the Parents Television Council, a nonpartisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment. Read more of his writing at the PTC’s TV Watchdog Blog: www.parentstv.org/blog.