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Controversial VMAs puts fresh spotlight on the Television Consumer Freedom Act

Should parents be able to choose what cable channels they fund? Following the ultra risqué MTV Video Music Awards this past weekend, more questions are being raised and pressure is being placed on Congress to pass the Television Consumer Freedom Act. The act would give parents and consumers a real solution for future raunchy programs – the ability to choose and pay for only the cable networks they want to see

"Why must families be forced to subsidize MTV or any other network with their cable bills? It's time for consumers to be able to choose and pay for only the cable networks they want,” Dan Isett, director of public policy for the Parents Television Council (PTC) told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “We urge Congress to pass the Television Consumer Freedom Act which will give parents and consumers a real solution for future MTV VMA programs – the ability to choose and pay for cable networks that they want versus having to pay for networks they don’t want.”

As it stands now, cable networks are part of TV packages so consumers cannot buy one without buying others. But in May this year, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called the system an “injustice being inflicted on the American people,” and introduced the “a la carte cable bill” – which was co-sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) – in Congress.

There are currently no roll call votes on the bill, and it remains in limbo. However, supporters stress that the recent MTV VMAs pointed out the urgency for its passing.

While much of fallout associated with Sunday’s Video Music Awards has been dedicated to Miley Cyrus’s tongue-wagging, “twerking” performance – parents are also upset over other actions like Lady Gaga stripping down to a thong and the condom commercials during a telecast aimed at minors as young as 14.

“As an avid cable consumer and parent I would like to the get the channels I want without the extras,” said tech expert and business analyst, Ari Zoldan, CEO of Quantum Networks. “I want what I pay for and not these channels which have become the ‘bloat ware’ of the cable business. Also, by packaging these channels it creates a delusion for the added channels, if cable companies did it on a pay per channel basis the number of subscribers to those channels would substantially drop.”

McCain’s bill also supports the nixing of the sports blackout rule for NFL teams whose home stadiums are funded with tax payer dollars. The current rule disallows local TV stations from broadcasting the game if the event is not sold out.  

However, the Television Consumer Freedom Act has been severely criticized by industry experts and distributors, who claim that cable bundles lower the price for everyone as strong channels can be discounted in return for less popular networks. ESPN opposed the potential legislation which could “cost consumers significantly more money for dramatically less,” while the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA) charged that such government intervention was unnecessary.

“In a thriving marketplace that is constantly providing consumers with new services and features, a government-mandated a la carte system is a lose-lose proposition,” argued the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the leading lobbying ARM for the pay-TV industry, in an earlier statement on its website, adding that consumers are given more choice than ever before in today’s TV marketplace. “In the face of such innovation and expansion, attempting to force retail models on private providers is unnecessary and counterproductive.”

But realistically, experts anticipate that the passing of the proposed act remains quite a way off.

“Content providers [networks and sports leagues] have too much muscle at the moment and [that] is nowhere near the groundswell of popular support or legislative will for this act to actually pass,” noted John Conway, Entertainment Attorney and CEO of Astonish Media Group.

Glenn Selig, of Selig Multimedia, agreed.

“Cable channels and cable networks often fight each other on issues. But in this scenario they would be on the same [side], and my guess is that they would trounce any effort by a parent's council to get this change to happen in Washington,” he added. “But I do think ultimately consumers have the power: They don't need to watch. And any parent disgusted by what they saw on the VMA show could simply tune out next year.”

MTV did not respond to a request for comment.

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