Consumers forced to pay too much for TV, says Sen. Rockefeller

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) voiced concerns on Tuesday that despite the growth of new video services such as Netflix and Hulu, consumers were forced to pay too much for television programming and were saddled with channels they didn’t want.

"Year-in, year-out consumers face rate increases for pay TV that are rising faster than inflation," said Rockefeller at a hearing on how online video platforms are affecting the price of television. "We are paying for so many channels, though we only watch a few."

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Rockefeller said the Internet and new innovations from video providers' should combine to create the "perfect playing field" for consumers.

Internet executives at the hearing, entitled “The Emergence of Online Video: Is It the Future?,” touted the growth of online platforms which they said would give consumers more choices outside of traditional cable providers.

"Consumers have a wide array of opportunities to stream, rent or buy online video programming,” said Paul Misener, Amazon.com vice president for Global Public Policy

Misener described the internet as a “pull medium” that would allow customers to choose what content they paid for, unlike cable providers, who package channels together. 

"With continued growth of broadband Internet access service, we believe consumer demand and choice will cause continued growth of online video services for an even brighter future," he said.

"We want to give customers the choice to watch what they want," Misener added. 

But he also warned that policymakers should ensure that the Internet remained a "nondiscriminatory, open platform" to protect consumer choice.

"The open Internet encourages innovation and allows consumers to decide whether a particular product or service succeeds or fails," he said.

Misener said online video providers were heartened that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has pledged to monitor the Internet for anticompetitive or otherwise harmful effects.  But he said lawmakers also needed to "remain vigilant on … Internet openness." 

Misener singled out data caps imposed by many consumer Internet providers as requiring such vigilance. 

A number of consumer advocacy groups have also expressed concern over the caps, fearing they could limit consumer access to streaming video services, and yesterday submitted letters to Congress and the FCC urging inquiries into the practice of imposing and maintaining data caps.