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In Fox-Cablevision battle, both sides lose - and so do viewers

Video
A collection of tech videos with The Washington Post's Faster Forward columnist, Rob Pegoraro.

The Federal Communications Commission has posted a helpful explanation of the dispute and used its Twitter account to broadcast updates about Tuesday's Phillies-Giants game without the express written consent of Major League Baseball. But the FCC has otherwise been content to let these two work things out on their own.

The most annoying thing about these carriage disputes is the notion that we viewers should regard any of these companies as being on our side.

Cable and satellite operators can talk all they want about "holding the line" on TV-network demands, but their bluster never seems to lead to lower rates. TV networks, meanwhile, see an easy way to pad their profits by getting TV providers to spend subscribers' money and add more of their channels to ever-bulkier programming bundles.

The networks further insult the intelligence of viewers by suggesting that they should protest by switching to other TV services. Even if you have a choice (remember, many people can't subscribe to satellite service because of trees or buildings that obstruct incoming signals) and don't have to eat an early-termination fee, going to a different provider only postpones the day you get stuck in one of these standoffs.

Up next: Dish Network and its more than 14 million subscribers. The Englewood, Colo., firm will see some Fox carriage contracts expire Nov. 1, a month after it lost access to Fox regional sports networks in a different dispute. Fox has already set up a site, Get What I Paid For, that pretends to speak for Fox viewers' interests.

One market-based solution to this would be to let viewers choose to pay for individual channels. But it's a rare day when a cable or satellite operator tells its customers what even one channel in a bundle adds to their total bill, much less gives customers any way to act on that information.

Since the pay-TV industry is so militantly opposed to a la carte pricing, one other option is to vote against the entire malfunctioning market. That's the remedy I chose last year - not to pay for TV at all, relying instead on over-the-air broadcasts and Internet streams.

Yes, that's a radical step. It's almost as radical as the prospect of shutting 17 million paying customers out of watching the end of the World Series.

robp@washpost.com


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