The Federal Communications Commission is making a lot of right moves in the seemingly never-ending battle to get cable companies to respond to their markets.
Today, the FCC is expected to enact a rule that would prohibit apartment buildings from signing exclusive contracts with individual cable providers, freeing up millions of renters to choose the service of their choice. This comes on the heels of a decision to force local governments to speed up the process by which they approve petitions by telephone companies to enter markets. Verizon and AT&T are trying to challenge cable companies by offering their own television programming.
And perhaps the most important effort by FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin has been to urge cable companies to offer so-called "a la carte" plans. These would allow consumers to pick and choose which cable channels they wish to receive. It also would provide market pressure on cable networks to provide programming that appeals to wider audiences. The hope is that the market would eliminate much of the raunchier offerings.
Cable providers have resisted changes all along the way, and for good reason. They have enjoyed exclusive arrangements that inhibit competition and allow them to raise rates. Martin said rates have risen about 93 percent over the past decade.
Those providers now are arguing that exclusive apartment deals actually lower costs. They also claim some of those agreements included clauses that required them to invest in system upgrades, and they hinted at a lawsuit aimed at prohibiting an illegal taking of property from them.
Those claims may eventually play out in court. It is ridiculous, however, to believe that granting renters more choices would do anything other than reduce the cost of services.
The phone companies' entry into the market may be just the first trickles of a tidal wave. As the Information Age progresses, more choices are becoming available to all consumers. Internet providers are making video streaming and downloading more accessible and of better quality. It soon may be impossible to keep people from picking and choosing what comes into their homes and paying only for that which they truly want to see.