Basic Cable Service
Basic Cable Service
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OLR Research Report  

August 28, 2006



By: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst

You asked why cable TV subscribers must buy so many channels, even if they choose a cable company's basic service package. You also wanted to know whether there has been any discussion of reducing the size of the basic package in order to reduce its costs.

Under federal law (47 U.S.C. § 521 et seq.) cable TV companies must carry local broadcast channels, such as the affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, and PBS. Federal law allows franchising authorities (in Connecticut, the Department of Public Utility Control) to require that cable companies include public, education, and government access channels as part of their service, and in practice the department requires carriage of such channels as part of the basic service package. Beyond these provisions, the companies are free to configure their service packages as they see fit. As described in OLR Report 2004-R-0638, basic service packages routinely carry channels beyond those required by law. Franchises can include provisions regarding broad categories of programming, and franchising authorities can enforce these provisions but cannot specify the contents of service packages. For example, a franchise could require that a cable company's enhanced basic package include a sports channel, but could not specify which one.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates the cable industry, has considered requiring cable companies to offer channels on an “a la carte” basis. This approach would allow cable subscribers to choose channels (beyond those required by law) on an individual basis. The commission has encouraged cable companies to take this approach, but has not required them to do so. FCC chairman Kevin Martin discussed this approach in his November 29, 2005 testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The testimony is available at On the other hand, the cable industry has argued that this approach would increase cable rates and decrease diversity in programming. The industry's argument is available at