Kentucky lawmaker files bill forcing cable providers to offer channels a la carte
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A Kentucky lawmaker has filed legislation aimed at forcing cable companies to offer consumers the option of paying for channels individually rather than in tiered bundles.
State Rep. Gerald Watkins, a freshman legislator from Paducah, said the idea arose from frustration with his own bundled channel lineup from Comcast, for which he pays more than $80 monthly.
Watkins says he has some 200 channels but only watches about 15, such as ESPN, CNN and The Weather Channel.
"I ought to be able to buy just the ones I want," said Watkins, a political science professor at West Kentucky Community & Technical College.
Watkins' bill, which has no co-sponsors, would require that any new or renewed contract between a local government and a cable operator include a provision that consumers be offered the so-called "a la carte" option for channels. The bill would not prohibit cable operators from continuing to offer bundles, he said.
"I just think the marketplace will force the providers and the stations themselves to sit down and do their math and decide what the true marketplace is for these channels," he said.
U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona has made a similar push at the national level for years. In May, McCain introduced the Cable Television Consumer Freedom Act of 2013, which aims to introduce the a la carte system and give "Americans more control over their viewing options and, as a result, their monthly cable bill."
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the industry's trade group, says the current bundle system offers consumers greater "program diversity" at a "better value."
The group adds that consumers have all sorts of new options to get TV, such as Internet streaming services that sell monthly subscriptions and individual episodes of shows.
"In the face of such innovation and expansion, attempting to force retail models on private providers is unnecessary and counterproductive," the association said in response to McCain's bill.
Watkins said the goal of his bill is to bring down the cost of cable, which he says can be more than $1,000 a year and is unaffordable for many seniors and people on fixed incomes.
Nationally, the average price of expanded basic cable service -- the most subscribed programming service tier – was $61.63 a month as of January 2012, up 4.8 percent from the previous year, according to a survey by the Federal Communications Commission.
Since 1995, the price of expanded basic cable has shot up at a compound average annual growth rate of 6.1 percent, more than twice the rate of inflation, according to the FCC.
The $61.63 figure does not include taxes, fees or equipment charges.
The Kentucky Cable Telecommunications Association, the industry's trade group in the state, says on its website that the average cost for a month of cable service is "about $35" nationally.
KCTA executive director Randy Hollis did not immediately return a call for comment.
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