WASHINGTON, D.C. — Americans are at a “tipping point” as it regards their monthly pay-TV bill and they should be given the option of purchasing channels individually instead of as a big bundle with hundreds of channels, Arizona Sen. John McCain told a Senate panel Tuesday.
“I truly believe that a lot of Americans are fed up with their cable TV bills,” said McCain, speaking to a Senate commerce subcommittee exploring the status of the TV and video industries in the United States.
McCain was speaking to rally political support for the Television Consumer Freedom Act of 2013, which he proposed last week. It would give pay-TV providers incentive to sell channels individually, or a la carte, instead of as bundles of hundreds of channels.
McCain, who has publicly supported an a-la-carte model for years, cited the soaring cost of sports programming and cable-bill inflation since the mid-1990s for the legislation.
Michael K. Powell, the former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and now president of the cable industry’s trade association, said the cable industry had “profound doubts” that a la carte selection would lead to lower cable bills. Programmers would have to boost the price of individual channels if they had to sell them separately, Powell said.
Powell said that cable companies had invested heavily in their networks and that the current bundling of channels allows a diversity of programming that might not be supported if channels were sold individually.
The rising cost of cable TV was one of several video-related topics at the Senate hearing. Others were whether the 1992 Cable Act needs to be overhauled because of the Internet and other new technology, and the future of broadcast TV.
The broadcast-TV industry fears that the government could take its wireless spectrum for broadband and has been promoting the importance of local TV stations for news.
“Broadcast television is as relevant today as ever before,” said Gordon Smith, the president of the National Association of Broadcasters. Responding later to a question, he said, “Our spectrum comes with public-service obligations that others don’t provide.”
The hearing was attended by about 50 TV officials and lobbyists. It was one of several being held on industry topics by Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., the new chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and Internet.
Others speaking at the hearing were John Bergmayer, staff attorney with the nonprofit Public Knowledge, and R. Stanton Dodge, general counsel with Dish Network, the nation’s third-largest pay-TV provider.
McCain, a Republican and former chairman of the Senate Commerce committee, was not officially scheduled to present at the hearing but was allowed to make his presentation before the scheduled speakers. He did not take questions.
In his remarks, McCain said that cable-TV bills had risen about 6 percent annually since the mid-1990s. Citing Nielsen research from 1995, cable companies sold subscribers a bundle of 41 channels and they watched 11 of them, McCain said. In 2008, the last year figures were available, cable companies sold subscribers 130 channels and consumer tuned into 18.