Television is a source of news and entertainment for millions of people. In recent years, many consumers, especially younger ones, have begun “cutting the cord” and receiving programming via streaming services. Streaming saves money by allowing customers to pay only for broadband internet and avoid paying for bundled programming. In contrast, prices for cable or satellite continue to rise. And consumers pay for expensive bundled channels, the vast majority of which they may not watch.
VIDEO SERVICES: Policy
Policymakers should ensure that cable, satellite, streaming services, and other pay-television operators include robust consumer protections. They should charge reasonable rates and offer choices that give subscribers control over content and cost (see also this chapter’s section on Broadband Internet Services, as well as this chapter’s section on Net Neutrality). This includes through à la carte pricing, which allows consumers to watch and pay for only the individual channels they choose.
Regulators should require pay television operators to incorporate the following consumer protection principles.
- Price and quality comparisons—to facilitate and encourage comparison shopping, regulators should require that consumers have access to information that is low-cost or free, comprehensive, and easy to read. Regulators should sponsor and disseminate price and quality comparisons of goods and services.
- Disclosure—prices for goods and services should be disclosed up front. Contract terms should be clear and concise.
- Privacy—consumers should be protected from the unauthorized use of records and personal data.
- Choice—consumers should have a choice of vendors, all of whom should have a fair chance to compete for customers.
- Oversight and enforcement—consumers should have a right to fair, thorough, and effective oversight and enforcement of consumer protections by state and federal regulators.
- Public participation—consumers should be adequately represented in public policy decision-making relating to pay-television service.
- Redress—timely and effective means of redress should be available to consumers when they encounter problems. Vendors must clearly explain how and where consumers can lodge complaints. Mandatory binding arbitration should be prohibited.
- Usability—consumers should have easy access both to customer service agents (rather than just an automated call system) and to user-friendly instructions for goods and services.
Policymakers should prohibit anticompetitive mergers and acquisitions involving pay-television operators.
Policymakers should protect consumers’ right to public-access programming on pay television.