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Wake-up call for cable industry Bundling or a la carte, companies need to offer more choices at lower cost

Let's get something straight: cable television is not water, gas or electricity. It's not something people absolutely need in their lives. That said, governmental intervention in determining how cable television is priced and disseminated to consumers is wrong. Let the marketplace rule.

A recent Federal Communications Commission study reversed a 2004 report that a la carte pricing would increase cable companies' costs for equipment, customer service and marketing that would be passed on to subscribers. Turns out, consumers could receive as many as 20 channels they selected without seeing an increase in bills.

Consumer groups and conservatives heralded this new analysis. Parents who want their children to watch only Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network would be able to indicate that and pay for only those channels. Sen. John McCain plans to introduce legislation to allow use of the a la carte system.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association defends the bundling approach -- consumers select channels in groups, meaning they pay for some they never view -- with arguments about free enterprise and the effect on minority and religious channels. Advertisers may turn away from a program aimed at minorities, for example, without a potentially wider audience under a bundled package. Such arguments are speculative. There are few minority channels.

The cable industry should take the threat of an a la carte system as a wake-up call. Consumers are tired of a monopolistic industry always increasing prices on the premise that it provides excellent programming. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but governmental intervention is not the answer.

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