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

  • Planned Charter Mega-Merger Does Nothing to Benefit Customers or Boost Competition

    May 26, 2015
    WASHINGTON — Charter Communications on Tuesday announced plans to acquire Time Warner Cable in a deal valued at $56.7 billion. Charter also confirmed that it would acquire Bright House Networks, a smaller cable company, for $10.4 billion.
  • Comcast-Time Warner Cable: The Deal Is Dead

    April 24, 2015
    WASHINGTON -- Comcast abandoned its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable on Friday morning. The move followed media reports of considerable skepticism about the benefits of the merger by staff at the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission, the two agencies charged with reviewing the deal.
  • Free Press Builds on Mountain of Evidence Against Proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger

    December 23, 2014

    WASHINGTON -- In a filing to the Federal Communications Commission today, Free Press defended its petition to deny the proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, building on the mountain of evidence already amassed against the proposed $45 billion merger. If approved, the merger would result in a communications colossus that would dominate high-speed telecommunications services in more than 60 percent of the country.

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News from Around the Web

  • Charter’s Guarded Optimism That This Time a Merger Will Clear

    New York Times
    May 27, 2015

    When Comcast agreed in early 2014 to buy Time Warner Cable for $45 billion, it looked to a lot of people like a safe bet for regulatory approval. We all know how that turned out.

    Now Charter Communications wants to buy Time Warner Cable, for $56.7 billion. Will this deal go through?

  • Charter Announces Plan to Buy Time Warner Cable and Bright House

    May 27, 2015

    In a deal that affects one in six American households, Charter Communications on Tuesday proposed a three-way merger with two other cable and broadband providers, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.

  • Charter's $55 Billion Bid for Time Warner More Appealing Than Comcast Offer

    U.S. News & World Report
    May 27, 2015

    Charter Communications on Tuesday proposed a $55 billion telecom merger with Time Warner Cable, a deal that would affect consumers and their cable bills across most of the country but one which stands a better chance of gaining regulatory approval than Comcast's recently failed bid for the company.

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