McCain takes aim at 'unfair' cable TV bundles


He cited Federal Communications Commission research that found that the average price of cable service has increased from $25 per month in 1995 to more than $54 today. 

He noted that ESPN accounts for nearly $5 of a monthly cable bill even though many subscribers don't watch the channel.

“Today, we’re putting up a stop sign," McCain said.

But his bill, the Television Consumer Freedom Act, is expected to face fierce opposition from the TV broadcasters and cable providers.

The legislation would void a copyright benefit for cable providers that insist on bundling their channels. The punishment would create legal headaches for cable companies when they try to offer local broadcast stations.

The bill would also put regulatory pressure on media companies to grant cable providers the right to offer their programming "a la carte."

McCain's legislation would repeal the sports blackout rule for events that take place in publicly financed stadiums. Leagues use the rule to block viewers from watching their local team on TV to encourage them to buy tickets to see the game live.

"When the venues in which these sporting events take place has been the beneficiary of taxpayer funding, it is unconscionable to deny those taxpayers who paid for it the ability to watch the games on television when they would otherwise be available," McCain said.

His bill would pull the broadcast licenses of TV stations that move their programming to cable channels. 

Several broadcasting executives have recently said they may consider pulling their programming off the air in a bid to shut down Web TV service Aereo. The online start-up offers livestreams of over-the-air television, but the broadcasters argue it is stealing their copyrighted content.

"If broadcasters who are using the public airwaves in return for meeting certain public interest obligations are going to deviate from those obligations, it is my view that we should consider if that is the most efficient use of our country’s spectrum," McCain said.

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association said in a statement that an a la carte system would be a "lose-lose proposition," however.

"As countless studies have demonstrated, subscription bundles offer a wider array of viewing options, increased programming diversity and better value than per channel options," the lobbying association said.

The group argued that consumers now enjoy "more choice than ever before."  

"They can choose their video entertainment from a variety of cable, satellite, telco and online providers; they can consume video on their TVs, their iPads, and their mobile phones; and they can purchase video via traditional subscription bundles, online bundles and individual shows," the group said. "In the face of such innovation and expansion, attempting to force retail models on private providers is unnecessary and counterproductive.”

McCain pushed a similar a la carte cable bill in 2006, but the legislation failed to make it out of the Senate Commerce Committee.