Paying for Cable by the Channel

Cable TV rates have risen by a third over the past three years, sparking a move in Congress to allow subscribers to select only the channels they want rather than be forced to pay for multichannel packages.

Such à la carte programming would best come from the industry. But Congress is right to zero in on cable's current anticompetitive practice.

A recent report by the Federal Communications Commission found that a typical household doesn't watch more than 12 to 17 channels anyway. With à la carte buying, subscribers would gain more control over what they watch. Parents, especially, could better limit the number of channels featuring sex and violence. In general, giving more power to consumers would help force changes in content.

The industry argues that many less-popular programs wouldn't survive if they weren't bundled in a package. But perhaps some people would be willing to pay more for those narrow-interest channels?

With cable rates rising much faster than inflation, the industry needs a change - and more competition. One government study found rates were lower in the few cities where customers have a choice of more than one cable company.

Cable companies already face intense competition from satellite TV. Going à la carte rather than sticking with prix fixe would make cable more competitive, not less.

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