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McCain Stirs Pay-TV Pot Again

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will soon introduce a bill calling for à la carte cable TV pricing and preventing programmers from bundling free broadcast and paid cable networks (such as Walt Disney Co.'s ABC and ESPN) in content licensing negotiations, according to Hillicon Valley . Hillicon Valley and Multichannel News report that the proposed legislation would also get rid of the FCC's sports blackout rule, which prohibits cable operators and satellite TV providers from carrying NFL games that are blacked out by local broadcast stations when the games don't sell out. In addition, the McCain bill would reportedly require broadcasters to keep their existing over-the-air content available for free or risk having their licenses pulled and their spectrum auctioned off. For as much attention as McCain's renewed à la carte push will likely draw (see Consumer Report Says Consumers Like to Bundle), the provision in the new bill keeping broadcasters tied to free TV services has its own controversial spin. Specifically, the bill would favor Aereo Inc., which is currently transcoding free, over-the-air TV signals and delivering them over IP to online subscribers. Because Aereo is not paying retransmission fees for the programming, several major broadcast networks have threatened to switch to a cable subscription model if the courts don't shut Aereo down on legal grounds. (See Free TV Model Under Threat.) The new legislation would pre-empt such a move by threatening to revoke broadcaster station licenses if they tried such a stunt. While the Aereo angle is new for McCain, his interest in TV regulation certainly isn't. Back in 2006, for instance, the long-time cable pricing critic introduced another bill calling for cable operators to offer à la carte programming choices to subscribers. — Mari Silbey, Special to Light Reading Cable
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