Back when cable visionaries foretold the age of 500 channels, did anyone ever expect they’d have to buy them in big bundles at a time? Canada is now reaching for that unrealized Promised Land, where 500 channels means 500 choices.

According to Reuters news service, the Canadian Industry Minister James Moore said Sunday that his government will soon require cable and satellite TV providers to permit channel-purchasing outside of bundles, even as some have already started offering à la carte purchasing. “We don’t think it’s right for Canadians to have to pay for bundled television channels that they don’t watch,” he said.

No pet channel?

In fact, this could be the start of a trend of increasing consumer choice, at least in Canada. That government is also investigating ways to stop airlines from overbooking flights or telecoms from charging so much for roaming.

In the U.S., Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has introduced a bill that, while not requiring TV providers to unbundle, would encourage them through incentives.

But be careful what you wish for. Some industry watchers contend that unbundling would not necessarily cost less, except for the lightest viewers, because the TV providers could simply charge more for single channels. Also, there’s a question whether niche channels would survive without being carried by bundles. You may never watch The Pet Channel, but don’t you want to know you could?

Memo to TV providers: Isn’t there something between a bundle and single-channel pricing?