Competition Does Not Lower Cable Fees

The Federal Communications Commission released a report this month with the descriptive yet cumbersome title of “Report On Average Rates for Cable Programming Service And Equipment.” The results come from a study of cable television service fees in different markets. The data was divided into two groups: communities where there was no meaningful competition (aside from satellite) and those where there was a competitor (either cable or phone company). The data is a snapshot taken in January 2010, so it’s not exactly current, but the results were a bit surprising all the same.

In the “competitive” communities, the price of “basic” cable service was about the same as with the “non-competitive” markets. But when it comes to “expanded basic” service, the price was actually slighty higher in the “competitive” markets. This result gets even more interesting when you calculate the “cost per channel” for the different companies; those in “competitive” markets had a lower cost per channel.

What this means is that the cable companies in competitive markets lard their offerings with more channels, so you get more for your higher fee. I’m not too sure that it’s a bargain. It reminds me of the story about two little old ladies on a week-long cruise. They share a table at dinner, and about halfway through the trip, one looks at the other and remarks, “The food on this ship isn’t very good, is it?” To which the other replies, “No, I suppose not. But they do give such nice large portions!”

I suspect that large portions will not be enough to satisfy subscription television customers much longer.