Two decades ago, something unusual happened.

Consumers were irate about their cable bills, which were increasing at nearly three times the rate of inflation. And Congress actually did something — adopting in overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion the 1992 Cable Act. The law resulted in lower cable bills, saving consumers $3 billion in just over a year’s time.

But this was only a brief respite. Washington soon caught a deregulatory fever, and less than three years after a super-majority of Congress voted to rein in monopoly cable prices, an even larger super-majority voted to let the cable industry return to its price-gouging ways. And return to them it did.

Since 1996, cable bills have continued to increase at nearly three times the rate of inflation. And this trend is only getting worse. Since the 2008 recession, the average annual rate of inflation has been 1.4 percent, but the price of expanded basic cable service has increased by an annual average of 5 percent. And these figures don’t include mandatory equipment-rental costs, which continue to skyrocket.

While no one is willing to take credit for these out-of-control price increases, there’s plenty of blame to go around. Cable channel owners like Viacom, Disney and News Corp., and cable providers like Comcast and Time Warner Cable, are the two factions of a comfortable cabal, one that earns monopoly-level profits from consumers who are deprived of any real choice in the pay-TV market.

Programmers like Viacom force cable companies like Comcast to buy channels in bundles — meaning providers can’t have popular channels like MTV without also carrying little-seen channels like VH1 Soul. Cable companies in turn force consumers to pay for hundreds of channels they’ll never watch.

To make matters worse, cable companies are also the largest providers of broadband service, which a growing number of consumers are using to cut the pay-TV cord in favor of online video programming. To protect their legacy pay-TV profits, cable providers are raising the fees they charge for broadband, and strong-arming the programmers to agree to withhold their content from online video companies like Netflix.

Change may be on the horizon, thanks to the Television Consumer Freedom Act. Introduced by Sen. John McCain and co-sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, this bipartisan bill could shake up the cable industry and finally give consumers a real measure of control.

The bill ensures consumers are offered an a la carte option alongside more flexible bundled-channel packages, allowing us to pay for only the channels we actually want to watch. This would save consumers money in the short run — and in the long run would help create a more competitive television market both online and via the traditional cable and satellite delivery platforms.

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Press Releases

  • Delay in Set-Top Box Vote Keeps Americans Waiting for Relief from Pay-TV Price-Gouging

    September 29, 2016
    WASHINGTON — On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission delayed a scheduled vote on new rules for set-top boxes. Customers collectively spend billions every year to rent such boxes from their cable-TV providers. The proposed rules were supposed to allow people to buy their own devices and utilize applications to integrate pay-TV and online video.
  • House GOP Continues Assault on Common-Sense, Pro-Consumer Safeguards for the Internet

    July 8, 2016
    WASHINGTON — On Thursday, the House passed the 2017 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill. The legislation includes numerous harmful policy riders, including three measures that significantly restrict the Federal Communications Commission’s ability to enforce its Open Internet Order. These riders would suspend the Net Neutrality rules until all legal challenges to them are resolved and hamper the FCC’s ability to investigate and prevent abuses from internet service providers.
  • Racial Justice Groups and Independent Producers Urge the FCC to Unlock the Box

    May 24, 2016

    WASHINGTON — A coalition of more than 30 organizations, including racial justice groups and independent content creators, filed a letter with the Federal Communications Commission on Monday as part of the agency’s set-top box rulemaking.

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News from Around the Web

  • Time's Running Out for the FCC on Set-Top Reform, Privacy and Zero-Rating

    October 18, 2016

    Dozens of leading public interest groups urged the Federal Communications Commission to swiftly approve new consumer-protection policies aimed at promoting competition in the video marketplace, increasing online privacy and ensuring internet openness.

  • Advocates Press FCC to 'Unlock' Cable Boxes, Pass Privacy Rules

    October 18, 2016

    The Federal Communications Commission should move forward as soon as possible with an ambitious proposal to "unlock" cable boxes. That's according to a coalition of 76 advocacy organizations, including Consumers Union, Free Press, the Center for Digital Democracy and New America's Open Technology Institute.

  • FCC Postpones Vote on Set-Top Box Reform in a Blow to Chairman Wheeler

    September 29, 2016

    The Federal Communications Commission postponed a vote on its highly anticipated proposal to increase competition in the video set-top box market after the agency chairman failed to secure the necessary votes to approve the plan.

Learn More

  • Broadband

    Access to high-speed internet service — also known as broadband — is a basic public necessity, just like water or electricity.

    Yet despite its importance, broadband access in the United States is far from universal. Millions of Americans still stand on the wrong side of the digital divide, unable to tap into the political, economic and social resources of the internet.

  • Cybersecurity

    Our right to private communications is a cornerstone of American democracy. But with heightened awareness in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, technological advances have continued allowing the government to expand its reach into our private lives via electronic surveillance and data-mining programs. New laws and policies introduced in the last decade have eroded our civil liberties online.

    Congress has a poor track record when it comes to cybersecurity legislation. The bills introduced so far give the government way too much power to intrude on our privacy online.

  • Declaration of Internet Freedom

    Tired of fighting bad bills like SOPA, PIPA and CISPA? Want to stand up against those who are trying to control what we do and say online? It's time for something different.

    A group of more than 1,500 organizations, academics, startup founders and tech innovators has come together to sign a Declaration of Internet Freedom, a set of five principles that put forward a positive vision of the open Internet. Click here to add your name.

People + Policy

= Positive Change for the Public Good

people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good