Senate Commerce Committee chairman Democrat Jay Rockefeller and the committee’s top Republican, Sen. John Thune (R-SD), took a baby step towards unbundling cable television. The idea is to give customers victimized by soaring cable bills a break by allowing them to pick and choose which broadcast networks they are willing to pay for. The bill would not affect or unbundle cable networks, just networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, etc. that are available for free through the airwaves with an antennae.
The proposal is called “Local Choice” and could cost broadcast networks dearly. The National Journal reports that carriage fees are a huge source of revenue for most cable channels, including the broadcast networks. Right now America’s hundred-million plus cable customers are given almost no option other than to feather the bed of these networks. Most every basic cable package comes with your local channels. Even if you don’t watch them, they get your money.
This of course is also true for the cable networks.
Bundled cable is a legal racket and redistribution windfall for the handful of multinationals that own a large percentage of all television networks. Consumers are forced to pay for channels they never watch and the Hollywood rich get richer at the expense of the working and middle class. It’s one of the most corrupt institutions allowed to legally operate in America, but “Legal Choice” is probably not the answer.
To begin with, it’s a drop in the bucket that will probably only make the life of the consumer more complicated without making much of a dent in the cable bill. If you dump a few channels out of a few hundred, how much money will you save. And that doesn’t even include the cost of the equipment you’re renting. Watch the cable companies use this disruption as way to increase your bill.
What lawmakers need to do is get out of the way of the free market, not try to micromanage it. The secret to dismantling the Big Media Mafia is streaming options such as Netflix and Amazon that offer a ton of entertainment for a fraction of the price of cable.
Thune and Rockefeller (who’s retiring this year) would serve their cause better by making sure the same multinationals who own cable channels, cable services, and provide Internet, are not able to game the system in a way that undermines these streaming services.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC