FCC Chairman Kevin Martin Suspects "Astroturfing" By Cable Companies

It seems that nearly everyone wants

la carte cable, so where is it? FCC Chairman Kevin Martin gave a speech in which he suggested that most of the “grassroots” opposition to

la carte cable is really the result of a well-organized lobbying effort by the cable companies.

According to Ars Technica, Chairman Martin quickly came under attack by minority groups who “felt their views were being unfairly dismissed.” Martin apologized, and in his apology made a very convincing argument for why

la carte cable would help promote more diversity in programming.

He referenced a report from the Center for Public Integrity that shows that cable companies fund minority groups in order to shift the debate about

la carte cable. (The idea being to scare people into thinking that with

la carte cable, minority programming would all but disappear.)

In his statement, Martin says:

According to a Neilsen Media Research report, the average cable subscriber is paying for more than 85 channels that she doesn’t watch in order to obtain the approximately 16 channels that she does.

While I believe that all consumers would benefit from channels being sold in a more

la carte manner, minority consumers, particularly those living in Spanish speaking homes, might benefit most of all. Currently, cable and satellite providers often require subscribers to purchase dozens if not hundreds of channels in order to get Spanish language programming for which they must pay an additional cost. Under

la carte, however, Spanish speaking homes could purchase only Spanish speaking channels.”

Martin also cites a report about the Black Family Channel, which recently had to discontinue broadcasting via cable because it could not find enough distribution in order to attract advertisers. The channel presented a satellite provider with a leather bound book full of 4,000 signatures from people who said they would like to view the channel, but the provider still refused.

Martin also states:

Indeed cable rates have more than doubled in the last 10 years. Cable companies often point to the increased number of channels being offered as an explanation for the increase in prices. This explanation, however, ignores the fact that the channels are not actually being watched.

We personally watch, like, 4 channels. We must watch Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe, Weeds, WGN baseball, and a certain football team. For this we pay way, way, way too much.

Read Kevin Martin’s Letter (PDF) [FCC]


Edit Your Comment

  1. B says:

    Is that certain football team the Vikings? If so, you’re in for a long season.

  2. DirectAnon says:

    Actually, in satellite, if a “caucasian” user wants some few specific channels it’s cheaper for them to ask for the equivalent “latino” packages. They are usually cheaper and the english channels they take out (very few) in order to get the latino channels are usually worthless anyway.

    In Japan is really cool, you buy (therefore own) the equipment for a 100 dollars, then the regular package of 68 channels is 32 dollars per month, if you’re a cheapo like me, for 25 dollars a month you can choose 16 of those 68 and make your own package! The only extra channels are premium sports and movies, but anyways you have some of those in the a la carte package.

    I had that a la carte package and then 13 dollars more for premium sports, I was so freaking happy.

  3. gibsonic says:

    LOVE Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe. Hilarious show. I’m pretty sure it’s not intended to be a comedy, but I still end up LMAO the whole time.

    i currently watch ghetto cable since im a internet provider and they didn’t put the filter on my line. I would pay for cable if they did in fact offer channels a’la carte. I only need about 10 channels really.

    Home shopping channels are gonna be screwed.

  4. gibsonic says:

    err. not internet provider…internet USER. big difference there…oops.

  5. davebg5 says:

    Dirty Jobs, Weeds and football? Meg, are you coming on to me? I’ll have you know that I am a happily married man (unless Mrs. DaveBG5 doesn’t leave me alone on Sundays during football season. Then, it’s ON!!!)

  6. enm4r says:

    I’m content with my OTA HD channels. It’s enough to get me through the boring stretches when I just want to sit and watch anything. I used to pay for cable and it wasn’t worth it to pay $60 a month to get ESPN, Discovery, and Comedy Central when I can watch half that online for free as well.

    That said, I’d be completely willing to pay for a la carte, even if the price per channel were much higher in small amounts. $20 for 10 channels and I’d sign up in an instant, even if it’s nowhere near the $60 for 160 (had to get that many to get HD) I had before.

  7. Meg Marco says:

    @B: Ew, No. Bears!

  8. RossC says:

    Yeah no more shopping channels… no more religious channels… infomercial channels…

    Woo whoooo, sounds great to me. Not having to surf through all of the worthless programming to find something worthwhile.

  9. Archteryx says:

    Dirty Jobs isn’t a comedy, but there’s tons of gentle ribbing going on, and the people being featured take it all in good-humored stride. The cow-pie pots and charcoal episodes were priceless.

    And sometimes, the workers get the best of him, too. (See: Mackinac bridge painter).

  10. kenposan says:

    I think the demise of shopping channels would be premature. Many people are addicted to QVC, etc.

    Same with religious channels. “Shut ins” love them and would probably be willing to pay for them.

    Me, I need about 15 channels to make me happy, though I usually only watch about 4 on a regular basis.

  11. Buran says:

    @RossC: Maybe a DVR would be of help here.

  12. savvy9999 says:

    While I’m all in favor of the FCC sticking its regulatory nose into the monopolistic behaviors of cable companies, I also have to wonder why hasn’t there already been a market-driven attempt at self-correction. Surely an entrepreneur somewhere can put together a cable company based on a la carte, and if there was enough demand, it would thrive. So why no takers yet?

  13. davebg5 says:

    @savvy9999: Some of that might have to do w/the larger networks themselves. Part of the revenue model for a cable network is to sell the network to the cable companies.

    If you are a large, well-established tv network would you rather know how much you will get paid if you are bundled within a particular service tier or do you want to have to wait and see how many individual subscribers sign up for your station?

    (In case anyone didn’t pick up on it, I work for a major, international media company w/numerous cable channels.)

  14. umonster says:

    @savvy9999: Cost of entry is prohibitive. Plus, only one cable company can operate in a particular area, righr? Or am I totally wrong about this.

  15. bambino says:

    Ditka vs. the unholy legions of Lucifer?

  16. Saboth says:

    I agree, and I’ve written my Congressmen several times about this. Currently I pay $50 a month for basic cable. This is the lowest tier. I watch around 5 channels max (out of about 60). Coupled with my cable internet, I pay $102 a month for those 5 channels, and internet (also the lowest tier). DSL is not available in my area. There is 1 cable company, and no more on the way. Satellite is not available due to obstructions. Monopoly.

  17. geekfather says:

    @savvy9999: The way I understand it, the cable co’s own/lease the physical cable running to your house. They control the access to your house that way.

    If another co wants to run their own lines, they can, but the gub’ment is no longer paying for them to do it.

    Yes, that is correct, your tax dollars went to the cable companies to get them to build out their service then they took control of them and use them to rape your bank account on a monthly basis.

  18. MameDennis says:

    I’m thinking I could be pretty happy with BBC America, Discovery, Comedy Central, and Food Network.

    That said… The best inadvertent comedy available is the “Christmas in July” presentations on the home shopping channels.

  19. stubblyhead says:

    @umonster: There is a choice in at least some areas, but that is definitely the exception rather than the rule.

  20. @gibsonic: I did not get cable television service when I moved because almost any show I really want to watch is now online. Who do I pay for Internet access? The cable company.

    I don’t know whether cable companies saw this coming and are pleased they’re still getting money from people like me or are pissed that people are dropping TV altogether.

  21. samurailynn says:

    When I moved out of my parents’ house, I pretty much vowed to never pay for cable unless I could choose to pay for only the channels I wished to watch. I’m sorry that some minority channels will not be able to get the funding they need to be run in all markets, but it is not my job to fund it. If I want to watch something really obscure that hardly anyone else would ever want to watch, I would expect that I might have to pay more for it.

  22. Sir Winston Thriller says:

    Vermont Comcast requires you to subscribe to (or soon will) the “Sports and Entertainment Package to get Turner Classic Movies and Fox Movie Network. Also included is a craptastic load of Fox sports channels. You just want Turner Classic Movies? Sorry — you gotta pay and take the entire package.

  23. samurailynn says:

    Oh yeah, not only have I have not had cable service at all in the past 7 years, I don’t even own a tv. Which led to some amusement when someone from Nielsen ratings called me. “I don’t own a tv.” “Oh, you must mean that you don’t purchase cable, that’s okay we can…” “no, I mean I do not own a television set.” “What.”

    She pretty much thought I was lying.

  24. davebg5 says:

    @Sir Winston Thriller: I love VT, but man, it would be nice if they protected their own citizens as well as they try to protect their environment/landscape.

  25. JustAGuy2 says:


    Ironically, shopping channels, religious channels, and infomercial channels would all be going strong. Shopping channels _pay the cable company_, rather than the other way around, and the religious channels are essentially free to the cable companies. It’s the lesser-watched non-shopping, non-relgious networks that would get killed. Anime Network, for example, would be toast.

  26. Ausoleil says:

    Cable companies are going to eventually get theirs. They are rapidly falling behind the satellite providers in terms of offerings, simply because they cannot compete in terms of bandwidth: DTV and Echostar need only launch a new bird into their orbiting constellation and they’ve added capacity. For the cable companies, adding capacity means better cables and electronics. That’s not a cheap proposition by any means.

    On the other front, companies like AT&T and Verizon have noticed that cable is eating at their telephony and Internet businesses and are going to compete by getting into the cable companies core market: providing 257 channels where nothing’s on. To enter the market, they too will need to upgrade their outside plant, but they are doing so rapidly. Verizon, for example, is offering fiber-to-the-home in several markets now. A copper co-ax cannot compete with that.

    At the end of the day, say in 10-15 years, cable companies may well be relics or also-rans in their markets as they fiddle their thumbs and reap profits while their competitors build up and prepare to assault their markets with a veangance.

  27. orielbean says:

    They will find a way to keep the costs up. Simply make the a la carte not worth it, like most miserable chains that force value meals on you – it’s cheaper to buy the package rather than just the items you want.

  28. gibsonic says:


    I barely own one. My wife is anti-tv and the aforementioned ghetto cable i have RARELY get’s watched. I do seem to accidentally get some tv time in when Dirty Jobs is on for some reason…purely accidentally though.

    and it’s on a 19″ tv/vcr combo we got for the kids to watch videos on a few years ago. The big TV broke and we didn’t replace it so we “stole” the kid’s tv. Awful parents, i know.

  29. VA_White says:

    Is ghetto cable where you have cable internet access then use a splitter and then you plug the cable directly into your TV? Then you have basic cable even though you’re not paying for it? And in order to make the cable signal stop coming to your house they have to come over and install a doohickey of some kind? Am I reading that right?

    I’m not being an ass; I really don’t know. Can you get in trouble if they don’t install the filter and you watch TV anyhow?

  30. gibsonic says:


    cable companies bandwidth problems are also upgrading their backbones with fiber. I haven’t heard of them offering it to the home yet, but I could forsee cable companies partnering up with power companies to run content to homes over electrical service that is being test in a few markets around the country for internet access.

  31. gibsonic says:

    @VA_White: you got it right. not my fault they didn’t plug up the filter. if they caught it then they would probably just put one on.

  32. B says:

    @VA_White: Yes, that’s known as stealing cable, and is illegal as you’re tapping into the wires which belong to the cable companies.

  33. dirithmir says:

    i almost exclusively watch the Holy Trifecta of Food, Discovery and History.

    oh yeah, and C-SPAN.

    yes, i am a nerd. thanks for noticing.

  34. Kezzerxir says:

    I was this close | | to having sprint ION.

  35. DjDynasty says:

    @VA_White: They are supposed to put a filter on, that filters out the video signal, which works well in a perfect world, but for people in an apartment building it’s very difficult to find said correct filter. in homes with a pole wire, they are supposed to install a filter, but rarely do because of sheer laziness. Most of the time they don’t notice, or care, until they detect what is known as a crack box, which is an unlocked cable box that get’s all chanels at no cost. I have an analog crack box that the old tenants left at my home. I hooked it up, it works great. I actually use it for a 3rd TV cable box, because the other two TV’s are HD with HD DVR. Rather than rent another stinking box, I already own one that functions perfectly. They keep deactivating the legit boxes because of the crack box, but when I point out I’ve been paying for service for 9years they back off!

  36. DjDynasty says:

    I also want to note, that The Filters in very congested area’s actually slow down the service. So they leave the filters off for a better user experience. I thought our house had a whole house antena when we moved in because we got all the broadcast chanels. as I upgraded TV’s that were cable ready, I started getting ALL these other channels. I do however subscribe legally to 2 of the 3 TV’s hooked up for service, as well as my cable modem.

  37. D-Bo says:

    Weeds ftw Meg!

  38. philipbarrett says:

    My old 10′ C-Band (State Flower of Texas) system had complete a la carte & it rocked! All the channels I wanted for about $18 a month. Plus the picture quality (uncompressed analog signal) rocked.

  39. philipbarrett says:


    Looking through an old bill, Discovery Networks was about $4 for an entire year!

  40. Ikki says:

    I only watch one channel frequently, and about 4 or 5 often enough to make me want to purchase them. I get the rest from my personal series of tubes.

  41. @bambino: Ditka vs. God
    Does God get to use his invisibility?

  42. bohemian says:

    We looked at getting one of the new versions of the C-band type dishes when we moved. You can still buy ala carte channels for about $4 a year or less.

    We have over 500 channels on our current cable. We watch about 15 amongst everyone in the house, plus all the movie channels. So we watch about 25 of the 500 channels. We have rather nerdy and obscure tastes. We have no use for about 50 sports channels or the 10 religious channels. But I would really like to get some of the ones like Anime Channel and the Horror channel (if it is still around).

    You would think that some enterprising company would be able to provide ala carte cable channels and on demand programming through broadband internet. You might have to upgrade your bandwidth but that would still be cheaper than the digital cable packages.

  43. gtr225 says:

    I would give anything just to get rid of Fox New Channel! It fustrates me knowing that my hard earned money goes to that channel. Personally I only watch Comedy Central, History Channel, A&E, Discovery, VH1, MTV, etc. No Food Network, Shopping Channels, Sports Channels, Christian Channels. I’m all for A La Carte.

  44. philipbarrett says:

    Nowadays you need a digital 4DTV receiver for C-Band otherwise everything else is pretty much the same, dish, LNB etc. Most of this stuff comes up really cheaply on Craigslist, biggest expense is probably the install. I loved the 6-8 PBS channels we got.

  45. CumaeanSibyl says:

    I do miss having TV, but the numbers Martin cites are accurate for me: 100-channel package, watch about 15 of them, pay $60 a month once the promo rate expires (and the idea of nagging Charter every month to get a rate extension does not appeal).

    Football season is coming, so I’m going to have to bite the bullet soon — plus I miss my renovation disaster shows — but I don’t have to like it.

  46. VA_White says:

    Thanks to all those who answered my question about ghetto cable. I pay for the top tier of high-speed internet access but not cable TV. It never occurred to me to try and plug in the TVs directly. We just use our Netflix and watch shows online if we need to.

    I like life without cable even if my children do whine occasionally about not having Cartoon Network so I’m not even going to tell them the TV channels might still be there – I love my peace and quiet too much!

  47. skl says:

    Can anyone remember ISPs in the early days? You had to watch your usage or be charged for going over. Same with cell phones, long distance etc.

    People don’t like it. They want flat rate.
    Pick & choose cable channels are not going to make anyone happy.

  48. VA_White says:

    I would LOVE pick and choose cable channels. LOVE it. We’d have fifteen channels but they would be fifteen channels we actually watch.

    I do not want or need NINE shopping channels. Or Fox News.

  49. synergy says:

    A co-worker who’s from a central american country and has lived in Europe tells me that a la carte cable is available in the places he’s been to and lived in. It’s just us who’re getting screwed by the cable/satellite companies.

  50. Cary says:

    Let me guess… Time Warner or Comcast’s CEO is a close personal friend of either George W or President Cheney?

  51. synergy says:

    @umonster: Only allowing one company to work in an area would make a monopoly which should be against the law, but usually isn’t. The excuse I kept hearing before another local company came to my city to compete with Time Warner Cable (and which I use) is that there just wasn’t a business that could take on the cost of starting a cable company here blah blah blah. Which turns out to be horsepucky, of course.

  52. Sir Winston Thriller says:

    About Verizon et al. upgrading to fiber–
    except where they say they can’t make money. Verizon is leaving Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine in a year or so.

  53. Little Miss Moneybags says:

    Yes, please!! I would not have cable at all if it was up to me, but every roommate I’ve had has looked at me aghast for not wanting “omg 1 meelion channels!!1!!” I watch only two or three channels in addition to what we get just fine over the air, and it’s hard to swallow paying for those (because if I didn’t have them, I wouldn’t know the shows were on, so I wouldn’t care!). I would sign up for a la carte service so fast–big 3, NY1, CNN, TLC, Discovery, and Food Network. Done.

    Of course, by the time this comes around, cable companies will find a way to make it more expensive than their package deals. I absolutely put my foot down when my roommate wanted Showtime and HBO, and I found out they’re like $15 per month EACH! No freakin way. She wasn’t willing to pay for it herself, so no premium on demand crap for us. Just watch, a la carte will mean that individiual channels are $10 per month each and premium becomes $30, so it makes more sense financially to get a whole tier package (and look what a “deal”! Each of your 1000 channels is like $.40 a month!).

    And as an aside about the Black Family Channel–why do cable companies, producers, or whoever think that because they have an idea for a tv show or channel, it should automatically be put on the air? If customers don’t want to watch it, go produce something good. It’s like magazines–readers don’t like it, you fold. You have no inherent right to have your media out in the world.

  54. ravuya says:

    I’m surprised the FCC doesn’t punish this sort of attempt to hijack the regulatory mechanism more heavily.

  55. MeOhMy says:

    I like a la carte programming. I probably watch 5 channels. I’d trade the other 500 for one or two “premium” channels that I might watch occasionally but would never in a million years pay an extra $25/month to get in a package.

  56. thepounder says:

    Yeah Dirty Jobs! Mike Rowe rocks on the level of Alton Brown. Oh, the Pig Farmer show Mike did just outside Las Vegas… the farmer dude was priceless.

    Honestly, I’d be overjoyed to pay for only the channels I want. As it stands I had to go thru each channel when I got my new DVR/Tuner a year ago and de-select all the channels I never watch, which include all networks minus Fox, any Spanish station except Galavision (must watch the Luchadores on Sundays), all the music-based stations like VH1, because there’s no music on them anymore (thanks for killing the music video, MTV)… Basically I only watch “cable” because that’s where all the “real” shows are, like MythBusters & the cool DIY shows on HGTV, and Colbert and Stewart (of course).

    Ultimately, I’d be much much happier with Time Warner cable if they’d let me tell them what I want to watch, and pay accordingly.

  57. killavanilla says:

    Thanks for the coverage, but doesn’t this fall under the whole ‘stuff everyone already knows’ department?
    Seems to me the only people opposed to ala carte is *shockingly* the cable companies, who stand to lose both revenue and profit (and rightfully so).
    How about the FCC chair actually DOES something about it?
    Insert flirty comment directed at Meg here….
    (you probably shouldn’t have posted that pic….)

  58. drjayphd says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: Now, gentlemen, let me ask you this: What if Da Bears were all 14 inches tall, you know, about so high? Now, what’s your score of today’s game?

  59. killavanilla says:

    Is Ditka playing?
    171-3 on a fluke 50 yard field goal attempt.
    Da Bears….

  60. swvaboy says:

    Am I the only one here, or the only one who will admit, that I have over 100 channels plus all of the premium channels. Do I watch all of them, no, but I do like channel surfing and occasionally find a show on some odd channel that I would have missed otherwise. I am fine with the bundles as they keep the prices down for me.

    I only pay $99.00 a month and that includes my internet. The internet, if bought alone, would be $29.99. I get my cable through Comcast, and any time I have had a problem, I email the area manager, and within hours the problem is resolved.

    I may pay too much (according to some of you), but I do not mind.