Freshman legislator's bill calls for cable companies to let customers pick their channels

02/24/2013 06:03 PM

After looking at his cable bill, Paducah Democratic Rep. Gerald Watkins decided Kentuckians could save money if they could choose which channels to purchase.

So Watkins filed House Bill 326 that requires cable providers that operate in Kentucky to offer networks a la carte to future or renewing customers.

Watkins said a typical basic cable contract runs around $1,000 a year, and he said that could be a burden to seniors on a fixed income. Watkins is a customer of Comcast. (Disclosure: cn|2 is the network operated by Insight/Time Warner Cable and cable companies have resisted a la carte subscriptions.)

“We were so concerned about seniors spending about $1,000 a year for medicines that in 2000 congress passed a law providing prescription benefits to seniors over 65,” said Wakins, who is a political science professor at Western Kentucky Community and Technical College. “They’re paying that much money to watch television; and to a number of seniors that is the only friend they have.”

Watkins said he thought up the idea for individually priced channels before joining the General Assembly in January. He said he first approached Comcast with the idea, but was not able to get a response to his request. As a member of the legislature he thought now was the time to “make it happen.”

Under the bill, which Watkins said has been reviewed by a judge and attorneys to ensure its constitutionality, when cable companies current contracts expire they would have to offer the individually-priced channels. But the legislation would not interfere with current contracts between customers and the cable company; or the cable company and providers.

“The cable carrier can continue to price and bundle as they have been or any way they want to. It doesn’t affect the way they want to market and services they want to offer, but it does require them to individually price each station,” Watkins said.

Watkins said competitive market forces should make cable providers offer channels at a lower cost through competition. But if they don’t, “the consumer would be better off bundling as they always have been.”

The bill, which Watkins filed Feb. 11, has been sitting in the House Local Government Committee since Feb. 19.


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