Proposed law would end TV blackouts, let viewers drop channels from cable packages

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In the aftermath of a fee dispute that saw CBS vanish from millions of households with Time Warner Cable for 31 days, a U.S. House of Representatives member is touting a bill that would ban such blackouts and also give viewers more say in which stations are included in their cable bundles.

The proposed legislation by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), reported by Hillicon Valley, would also forbid broadcasters from blocking certain viewers from online access to shows, which CBS did as a retaliatory measure in the Time Warner Cable. It would also give consumers the power to drop broadcast networks from their TV packages, and forbid broadcasters from forcing cable and satellite companies to buy extra channels when they license broadcast stations like CBS, NBC or ABC.

The bill in many ways mirrors similar Senate legislation proposed in May by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) to break up the TV industry “bundle” business model, which relies on force-feeding channels to viewers even if they don’t want to buy them.

While the bills have popular appeal, they are unlikely to become law anytime soon, given the competing lobbying power of the broadcasters and the cable industry in Washington. In response to the proposed law, CBS and others claim that the market should decide the price of TV.

In the meantime, the price of TV bundles is likely to climb even higher as a result of sports leagues like the NFL that, in recent years, have been able to command price increases that far exceed the rate of inflation.

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