McCain: Consumers shouldn't pay for TV they don't watch

McCain's bill, the Television Consumer Freedom Act, would void a copyright benefit for cable providers that insist on bundling their channels. The step would create legal headaches for cable companies when they try to offer local broadcast stations. 

The legislation would also condition certain regulatory benefits for media companies on them allowing cable providers to sell their programming on an a la carte basis.

McCain argued that his bill only leverages special government benefits that TV companies currently receive and does not mandate a specific business model.

But his bill generated little enthusiasm among the panel's members. Subcommittee Chairman Mark Pryor (R-Ariz.) said it "seems very common sense," but he asked industry witnesses to weigh in about potential problems.  

"There's either a breakdown in the competitive model or there isn't," Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said, noting that consumers continue to pay for cable TV bundles. 

Michael Powell, the head of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, warned that McCain's legislation could actually drive up prices for many consumers. 

He said that as fewer people subscribe to a channel, the advertising revenue falls and the price of the channel goes up. 

"It doesn't take long for a consumer putting those pieces together to quickly get to a package that costs something very similar to what they were paying before if not more," Powell said. 

He also argued that an a la carte system would make it harder for small channels to grow in popularity and could kill off channels aimed at minorities. 

John Bergmayer, a senior staff attorney for consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, agreed that bundles of channels make sense for many consumers, but he applauded McCain's bill and said people should have the option to purchase individual channels if they want.

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