John McCain Wants to Lower Your Cable Bill

Senator John McCain Photo: Samantha Sais/Retuers/Corbis

John McCain seems to be working hard as of late to make up for that whole Sarah Palin business: He backed the Manchin-Toomey background check legislation, he's part of the Gang of Eight supporting immigration reform, and now he's fashioning himself the savior of cable customers fed up with ever-increasing bills. Today, the Senator Formerly Known As Maverick introduced the Television Consumer Freedom Act, a new twist on something McCain has long supported: forcing cable companies to stop "bundling" TV networks in a group, requiring fans of Lifetime and AMC to also subscribe to ESPN and Disney, even if they're childless and hate sports. The cable industry calls this "bundling," and executives have long said it's a necessary evil to ensure a broad range of cable channels and to keep overall bills lower. What McCain's legislation would encourage is a so-called "à la carte" option, where cable (and satellite) subscribers could pick and choose only the channels they want to watch. In a speech on the floor of the Senate today, McCain called the lack of access to à la carte “unfair and wrong — especially when you consider how the regulatory deck is stacked in favor of industry and against the American consumer. This is clear when one looks at how cable prices have gone up over the last 15 years."

As the L.A. Times' Joe Flint notes, McCain tried to get à la carte legislation passed seven years ago and failed. And it's not clear that his new bill has any more of a chance, particularly since McCain has also included other aspects likely to annoy the big broadcast networks: One provision would revoke the broadcast license of any big-city affiliates that pull their signals off the air in protest of the online-TV-streaming service Aereo, assuming Barry Diller's service is cleared legally. (The networks think Diller's device threatens their ability to get compensated by cable and satellite companies.) Another provision would make it tougher for sports teams to force blackouts of home games, but only if the team's stadium was built with government money. Basically, there's something for at least three big lobbies to hate.