FCC puts 'a la carte' cable on the menu

Sick of paying for dozens of channels you don't watch? Relief may be on the way.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 1:06 AM

— -- If you're tired of paying for dozens of cable TV channels that you don't want and don't watch, relief may be on the way.

Programmers have used the practice to launch scores of channels. That's why you see all those spinoffs of Walt Disney's ESPN on basic and digital cable. Operators didn't necessarily want them they just couldn't see a cheaper way to get the flagship channel.

Each extra channel adds a fee to customers' bills. "The problem for consumers is that they have to pay higher rates for a bunch of channels they may not want or watch," says FCC chief Kevin Martin.

Cable operators routinely cite programming costs as a big reason they've more than doubled rates over the past decade.

Martin thinks curbs on tying could ease those costs. "Cable TV rates have continued to rise above the rate of inflation. I'm hopeful that this would help control the rate of increase of cable rates."

Cable operators have tried to get around tying for years, says Matt Polka, president of the American Cable Association, which represents hundreds of small cable TV operators. "At a time when (cable consumers) are screaming for choice, there is none, largely because of consolidation and control of content."

Cable operators are required to carry all local TV stations, but federal rules let broadcasters pick how they want to be paid: Cash or carriage of their company's cable channels.

Polka says programmers typically set the cash price so high that operators have little choice but to agree to take their channels. Recently, they've even started to demand support for their websites, he says.