McCain working on bill to allow for ‘a la carte’ cable TV packages

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is working on legislation that would pressure cable and satellite TV providers to allow their customers to pick and choose the channels they pay for, his office confirmed on Wednesday.

Consumers have long complained about the rising costs of cable TV packages and having to pay for dozens or even hundreds of channels just to gain access to the few that they watch.

But McCain’s legislation, which he is expected to introduce in the coming days, will likely face furious opposition from both the TV broadcasters and cable providers.

McCain, the former chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, pushed a similar “a la carte” cable TV bill in 2006, but the legislation found little traction at the time.

{mosads}Cable and satellite providers, such as Comcast and DirecTV, must negotiate with media companies for the ability to carry their channels.

In addition to pressuring cable providers to offer channels a la carte, McCain’s new bill would bar TV networks from bundling their broadcast stations with cable channels they own during negotiations with the cable companies, according to industry sources. So for example, the Disney Company, which owns both ABC and ESPN, could not force a cable provider to pay for ESPN in order to carry ABC.

The industry officials said the bill would also end the sports blackout rule, which prohibits cable companies from carrying a sports event if the game is blacked out on local broadcast television stations.

Dropping the rule would have the most effect on the National Football League, which requires broadcasters to black out games if the local team does not sell out the stadium. The rule is meant to encourage fans to buy tickets to see the game live.

The bill also includes a provision that would boost Web TV service Aereo, according to the industry sources. Aereo allows customers to stream broadcast TV on their computer or mobile device, but the TV networks are suing the company, claiming that it is stealing their copyrighted content.

Several broadcasting officials have said recently that if they do not win in court, they would consider taking their programming off the air to prevent Aereo from stealing it. 

The bill would pull the broadcast licenses of companies that switch high-value programming from over-the-air television to cable channels, according to the sources. 

The National Association of Broadcasters and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association declined to comment, but the groups are expected to oppose the legislation. Both industries have argued that the government should not micromanage how they offer their products to customers and that bundling can promote diverse offerings. 

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), the current chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which would have jurisdiction over the bill, did not respond to a request to comment. His committee plans to hold a hearing next week on the state of the video marketplace. McCain no longer serves on the panel.

Tags Jay Rockefeller John McCain

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