I love a good hamburger. Hot off the grill, dripping with some sharp cheddar, nestled on a lightly toasted potato roll with a dab of spicy brown mustard. It doesn’t really get any better than that.

So what does any of that have to do with cable television?

It’s the buns. I can go to the grocery store and buy all of the ingredients for my dream feast in the quantity and variety that I want – except for the buns.

I favor Martin’s Potato Rolls, a delicious brand made in the Dutch Country of southern Pennsylvania. Martin’s also makes a fine potato bread that is my choice for the perfect ham sandwich, but I digress.

The smallest number of Martin’s Potato Rolls that I can buy at the store is eight. I will eat two burgers in a typical meal and my wife will eat one. That means we are constantly tossing out five potato rolls that have gone stale.

This is the exact same way that most folks are forced to buy cable television service. You are forced to buy a certain number of channels, the majority of which you will never watch. The cable companies call it “tiered service.”

But it’s even worse than that. Consumers are typically forced to buy a so-called “basic tier” of channels in order to buy certain other “premium” channels they might want, such as HBO or ESPN.

When questioned about their rapidly increasing rates cable television providers are usually quick to point out that they are offering more channels – and that the actual cost per channel for consumers is going down.

That might be true if all those channels had the same value to consumers. They don’t. Most people only watch a very limited number of channels on a regular basis. And they aren’t watching the Home Shopping Network, the Bass Fishing Channel and all the other odd offerings that make up the majority of the typical cable package.

We believe consumers would be much better off with an “a la carte” system, where they are able to choose and buy only what they are interested in and expect to use.

The weakness of the “we’re giving you more” argument by cable providers is driven home by a new report by Nielsen Media Research. You can view an article on the report by MediaPost by clicking here (registration required).

For the first time, the report says, the number of channels “receivable” by the average TV household shot up past 100, jumping to 104.2 in 2006, up from 96.4 in 2005. But the number actually tuned in by the average household remained about the same, moving to 15.7 in 2006 from 15.4 in 2005 and 15.0 in 2004, the first year for which Nielsen reports that statistic.

It’s time for cable television providers to stop playing games and give consumers the option buy only the channels they want.

As for me, I think I will slap some hamburgers on the grill tonight and watch “The Office.”