- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2006

At the end of every month, millions of Americans find themselves writing out a check to their cable provider. As the pen rolls across the paper, one cannot help but wonder, “Why am I paying this kind of money for channels I barely watch?” Welcome to the antithesis of America’s free market ideals. You can choose to have cable, but you cannot choose what comes with it.

In every part of this country, the cable companies have a virtual lock on our home televisions. The current franchising rules have allowed one cable company to control nearly every local market in the country without any alternatives. Because of these agreements and outmoded laws, cable television offers only a “take it or leave it” proposition. Either you subsidize every channel included in the offered package or you simply choose not to have cable at all. With this kind of power lorded over our television viewing, cable companies have no need to be more responsive to consumers.

We pay, they profit. No questions asked.

What irks most consumers, particularly families, is that cable subscribers have no choice in the channels being funneled into their homes. Whether the channels they choose not to watch are offensive, objectionable or simply uninteresting, there is little consumers can do to avoid them coming through our living room television set. While some parental controls may aid in protecting young eyes from questionable content, the channel is still part of the cable package for which we pay each and every month. In other words, no matter how out of touch you may feel a specific cable channel is with your family’s values, you are still forced to subsidize the channel and the cable moguls who produce their programming.

In a country where we are not asked to pay for food we don’t want to eat, clothes we don’t want to wear and books we don’t care to read, why are cable subscribers still forced to pay for channels we don’t want to watch? There is a solution.

For years, families have been clamoring for an a la carte pricing option in their cable packages, an alternative that would allow consumers to choose exactly which channels they want in their homes. Regrettably, this cry has fallen on deaf ears. Some cable companies instead have decided to offer so-called family friendly tiers, a decision that further illustrates the need for families — not cable magnates — to be allowed to choose for themselves what is appropriate for their homes.

Our studies show the vast majority of the American public stands with us on this issue. A poll conducted by Concerned Women for America found that 80 percent of Americans disagree with the way the cable system currently functions, and 62 percent said they would prefer to choose cable programming for themselves. Cable consumers on average watch only 12-15 channels regularly, but pay for 50-75 channels for basic cable packages and more than 200 channels for digital cable packages. The majority of Americans do not get their money’s worth, not even close.

While cable companies have ignored this cry, it has caught the attention of lawmakers. Members of Congress are starting to pay attention and have spoken out about the filth on television and about the need to allow consumers a way to avoid subsidizing such objectionable programming. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin also recently took a courageous stand by endorsing the concept of individual channel subscriptions.

Today, executives of the cable companies will join others in testifying before a Senate committee regarding indecency on the airwaves. Senators need to take this opportunity to ask the cable executives why they have used their power to block choice, competition and decency. These hearings are a good start, but Congress must go one step further: Congress must speak up for the voiceless families and consumers the cable magnates are ignoring.

Speak up for our families; speak up for cable choice.

Beverly LaHaye is Chairman of Concerned Women for America.

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