Starting today, Shaw Communications subscribers will be able to build their own bundles, including ordering channels a la carte.

Shaw appears to be the first major North American MSO to offer a la carte selection. Subscribers will not be able to build a full a la carte lineup, but they will be able to select channels on that basis with supplemental channels.

Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt is on record saying he expects that the industry will have to move in that direction eventually with broadband, but neither TWC nor any other major MSO appears prepared to even entertain the possibility of a la carte pricing for video.

A la carte has been the subject of bitter arguments. The FCC under Michael Powell declined to impose a la carte on video distributors, concluding that it would probably be even more expensive for consumers. The FCC under Kevin Martin nonetheless tried to impose a la carte pricing but failed.

Shaw calls the new service the "Plan Personalizer," and the a la carte service "Pick and Pay." The Plan Personalizer site leads customers through multiple options for TV, Internet and phone service. The "shopping cart" is always visible, showing options selected and total price, including bundle discounts.

Subscribers can select from among several TV service tiers, and then they are presented with options for additional pre-set bundles of channels, with bundles of both HD and SD channels. Each bundle wraps together channels that fall under different categories, for example, education, entertainment and sports (those are the HD options).

The site offers SD channel bundles (called "packs"). Select a pack, and you get all the channels in the pack for a set price. The packs typically have eight or more channels each. But customers can also select individual channels within each pack and forego others.

Experimenting with the site, it appears that ordering a la carte is frequently cheaper than the full pack price, provided the customer selects four channels or fewer. It appears to be consistently more expensive to order more than four channels but fewer than the full number in the pack.

Programming in French and adult content are additional options.

Equipment options include HD boxes and HD PVRs, with additional options for each increment in PVR storage, which currently tops out at a terabyte (for $298).

As for broadband, customers can choose any of Shaw's multiple Internet tiers, including 50 Mbps and 100 Mbps services. The next choice is to rent or buy a Wi-Fi router. 

Subscribers will get to choose from among three tiers of home phone service, one a barebones option, another with a handful of common features and international charges of 4 cents per minute, and a third with a few more features and 1,000 minutes of long distance. Customers can add extra lines and opt for unlimited long distance for an additional $6.95.

Customers who sign up for the Shaw Plan Personalizer between now and May 31 will receive a three-year rate guarantee on their core services.

"Our customers are telling us they want more choice, more value and more freedom to choose what's important to them," says Peter Bissonnette, president of Shaw Communications. "We listened and are proud to offer the Shaw Plan Personalizer, a new way for our customers, both new and current, to customize their growing needs and receive everyday value – the right service at the right price."