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FCC: Pick-and-pay cable TV would save money

Cable companies fear change would diminish wide distribution
/ Source: The Associated Press

Most cable TV subscribers would save money if allowed to pay for only the channels they want, a Federal Communications Commission study said Thursday, reversing the agency’s earlier finding that consumers wouldn’t benefit.

The analysis by FCC staff provides new support for consumer groups and conservatives pushing for a pick-and-choose pricing system to replace the bundled services offered by the cable industry. Cable companies fear that would diminish their wide distribution.

The study gives added ammunition to lawmakers and regulators who see “a la carte” as a way to clean up raunchy television by giving parents more control over the channels their children watch.

“I am pleased that the commission has concluded that ’a la carte’ offering could reduce consumers’ cable bills by as much as 13 percent,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who plans to introduce legislation next week to create and promote use of the la carte system.

“The report confirms what I have believed for years — if consumers are allowed to choose the channels their families view then their monthly cable bill will be less,” he said.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the industry’s main trade group, did not immediately comment Thursday.

Currently, Congress requires cable companies to offer a basic service package that includes local broadcast stations. The companies also offer expanded basic packages that typically include bundles of cable networks such as ESPN and CNN. For HBO, Showtime and other premium services, consumer pay an additional fee.

In Thursday’s report, FCC staff said its November 2004 report was wrong to conclude that the average cable household — which watches about 17 channels — would likely face a monthly rate increase of up to 30 percent under a la carte.