John McCain Writes to FCC Urging a la Carte Cable

Calling reaction to his proposed legislation "astounding," McCain says pay-TV providers "should not be afraid" of it

U.S. Sen. John McCain continued his campaign against pay-channel bundling on Wednesday, penning a letter to acting Federal Communications Commission chairwoman Mignon Clyburn pushing for the option to purchase individual pay channels.

McCain, who last month introduced legislation on the matter, said forcing consumers to buy channels they're not interested in is wrong and that "action should be taken."

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The legislation, dubbed the Television Consumer Freedom Act, would incentivize distributors to offer individual channel purchasing options and would still allow for programming tiers, McCain said in the letter, published on his government web site.

"If the MVPDs [multichannel video programming distributors, aka, cable and satellite providers] are right, and the current tiered programming model is the best value for consumers, then the programmers who bundle their television channels and the MVPDs that offer tiers to consumers should not be afraid of an a la carte option for consumers."

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Claiming that the reaction to his legislation has been "astounding," McCain took aim at the tier system that, he said, keeps less popular programs afloat at the expense of the consumer — an unacceptable situation, McCain wrote, given rising cable prices and changing viewing habits.

"Opponents of my legislation suggest that the current model of offering television programming in tiers provides consumers with the best available value. But with studies finding cable prices increasing over six percent a year over the last 16 years, and consumers on average only watching 18 of the 130 channels they purchase, what consumers really believe they are getting a good deal?" McCain asked. "The truth is the current socialized television model, where popular channels are subsidizing less popular channels, is incredibly anti-consumer."

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Blasting what he characterized as "clear market unfairness," McCain urged the Commission to join him in taking action.

"For too long, the government has entered the market on behalf of special interest to afford businesses the opportunity to develop and markets to mature," McCain concluded. "That time has passed. As such, I call on the Commission to review this issue and take steps to shift this balance toward consumers, by providing consumers with greater choice when purchasing television video."