In this digital age, fans of television can usually pick and choose what they watch and the platform on which they view it.
Internet programming services like HuluPlus and Netflix charge a small monthly fee – generally less than $10 per month – and consumers have access to most of the newer shows, on demand, free from commercials.
But cable TV subscribers, as well as those who receive programming via satellite services like DirecTV and DishNetwork, are not as fortunate. These subscribers may choose programming packages, or bundles of channels. Often, these are divided into tiers ranging from the less expensive “basic” package to more expensive “premium” packages.
Last month, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., proposed a bill that would end the cable company practice of offering “bundle” packages, and let customers choose individual channels.
The Television Consumer Freedom Act would require cable and satellite TV companies to offer smaller channel packages at a more affordable price to customers, letting the consumer choose the majority of the channels without having to receive stations they have no interest in watching. The bill would require professional sports leagues to broadcast their home games if they receive public funding to finance their stadiums. Right now, home games are blacked out in the hopes that local fans will watch the games in person at the stadiums.
According to Tahlequah Cable TV General Manager Joe Knight, the bill is relatively new, and corporations are in the early stages of examining the possibilities if it passes.
“Tahlequah Cable is a part of Wehco Video, of Little Rock, Ark., which owns several cable systems,” said Knight. “So far, offering individual channel packages is something we haven’t really discussed yet, so we’re not sure what direction that will take in the future. I’ve read a little about the bill, and what people will have to understand is to develop those individual packages will require additional equipment. Just based on my own opinion, I believe programming costs would be about the same.”
Knight said Tahlequah Cable’s basic service offers a single tier, featuring channels 2-80, without any cable box required.
“With the cable box, we offer a number of packages, including premium movie channels like HBO, Cinemax, Starz and Encore, and the high-definition package is included,” said Knight. “We also offer a digital value pack, which includes 45 channels we don’t offer in the basic service, including ESPN News, the Oprah Winfrey Network and others.”
Tahlequah Cable also provides pay-per-view service and music channels.
“The thing is, too, with the new technology in televisions, a lot of them come equipped with digital tuners, which are able to pick up local HD programming without the aid of a cable box, only the basic service,” Knight said.
Several local residents have either abandoned cable and satellite service altogether, or at least subscribe to Internet services like HuluPlus or Netflix.
“We are a part of the crazy movement that walked away from high-priced cable,” said Melinda Matthews. “We bought a $30 TV antenna and get the weather when we need it, and we pay for Netflix.”
Matthew said she hated paying for cable, only to miss out on the channels she loved the most.
“Truth be told, we may have watched five channels, but to get BBC from cable, you had to subscribe to the top level of services, and it cost us just as much for the top level of Internet service,” said Matthews. “When [my husband] lost his job, that was the stuff we cut. I haven’t looked back. It would be nice to pick what channels I wanted to pay for, but not at the cost of the government stepping in to enforce it.”
Renee LaCombe also believes choosing a la carte channels is a good idea.
“I only get free, over-the-air reception, because I’m not interested in paying $60 per month for 120 channels, when the 10 channels I prefer aren’t even included in the bundle,” said LaCombe.
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