Sen. McCain Back In Anti-Bundling Saddle With New Bill Pushing A La Carte Cable TV

Back in 2006, Sen. John McCain tried and failed to get Congress on board with a bit of legislation that pushed “a la carte” cable TV — programming that consumers could pick and choose instead of being forced to have 300 channels they don’t watch just to get the few they do. He’s not giving up the fight, it seems, as his office introduced a new bill to put the heat on pay TV providers to allow the a la carte option.

The Hill’s Brendan Sasso received confirmation on Wednesday that the bill was forthcoming, and just yesterday McCain set it loose upon Washington, notes The Verge.

It goes by the name of the Television Consumer Freedom Act of 2013 (that has a nice ring to it, eh?) and seeks to push cable and TV companies to unfetter their customers from the chains of bundling.

One key nugget here, however, is that the bill is totally voluntary, and would in effect, dangle incentives like so many carrots in front of the cable providers and content companies. The end result would ideally be that we get to watch the channels we want, and not pay for those other tag-a-longs.

“Today, we’re putting up a stop sign,” McCain said while introducing his bill. “My legislation would eliminate regulatory barriers to a la carte by freeing up multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) – like, cable, satellite and others offering video services – to offer any video programming service on an a la carte basis.”

So how would this be done? If the MVPD doesn’t have a broadcast station or offer any other channels on an a la carte basis, that MVPD wouldn’t be able to rely on what’s known as a compulsory copyright license to carry those broadcast stations. Those licenses are what enable broadcasters to retransmit programming without getting direct permission from copyright holders.

McCain gets right down to the crux of the issue between Cablevision and Viacom, wherein Cablevision was ticked off that it had to carry channels like VH1 Classics in order to also have the other channels also offered by Viacom. That would stop, he says in the bill.

“Thus, if a cable operator doesn’t want to carry channels like MTV, it would have the option of not doing so and only buying, and carrying, the channels it thinks its consumers want to watch,” he said.

There’s also a provision that takes issue with broadcasters who are fighting over-the-air services like Aereo. McCain’s bill said that if networks threaten to pull their broadcast signals and put their programming on cable, they’ll be stripped of their spectrum, which would then be sold off by the FCC.

One last thing included in the bill — and end to the sports blackouts some customers suffer depending on the area they live in. Any venue that’s paid for in any part by taxpayer money would have to repeal blackout restrictions. That includes most professional stadiums.

“In the end, the Television Consumer Freedom Act is about giving the consumer more choices when watching television. It’s time for us to help shift the landscape to benefit television consumers,” McCain said.

While this all sounds promising, and would be a pretty major win for consumers, the TV industry is likely going to throw everything it’s got into fighting it. If the TCFA fails, we can only hope that McCain and other legislators will continue to fight the good fight. Because I don’t want to ever watch VH1 Classics.

McCain working on bill to allow for ‘a la carte’ cable TV packages [The Hill]
John McCain proposes ‘a la carte’ cable bill, encourages death of sports blackout rule [The Verge]