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When you subscribe to cable TV, you get access to literally hundreds of channels. But all that choice comes with a cost, and cable bills only seem to be increasing over time. So is it worth subscribing to cable, and what would happen if consumers could choose to pay only for certain channels?

In this lesson, students explore how cable pricing has changed over time, both in terms of total dollars and the cost per channel. Then they apply unit rates to explore what would happen to the cable costs if people could choose which channels they subscribed to.

Students will

  • Interpret scatterplots of cost vs. year and number of channels vs. year for the most popular cable packages
  • Calculate the cost per channel for different years, and explore how this unit rate has changed over time
  • Examine how an à la carte system would affect how much customers pay for access to cable channels
  • Explore how à la carte pricing impacts the revenue of different cable channels, and explore how the channels might change their pricing in response to an à la carte pricing system
  • Discuss whether or not the United States should force cable companies to unbundle its cable TV packages

Before you begin

Students should have some previous experience dividing multi-digit numbers; the lesson can be used to reinforce this skill. Act One begins with scatterplot data, so experience with graphing in the first quadrant will be helpful.

Common Core Standards

Content Standards
Mathematical Practices


Cable providers everywhere