There’s been a lot of posturing the last few weeks regarding a whole host of issues that are very important to the cable industry. That, in itself, is not unusual. After all, we are entering what is likely to be one of the longest and loudest political campaign years in memory, and it is also convention season for the broadcasters and cable. That guarantees lawmakers and regulators will be quoted saying all sorts of things – some of them contradictory – depending on which convention crowd they are addressing. But there is an unfortunate new trend this year – one that suggests some very fuzzy thinking on the part of the speakers, and it is that fuzziness we need to clear up right away. Here’s the takeaway message from this column: cable and broadcast television are NOT the same! The government regulates broadcasting because the government created the industry. Broadcasters use the public’s spectrum. They were given it for free in exchange for accepting obligations as to how it would be used. The whole vastly overplayed "indecency" issue triggered by the Super Bowl incident is anchored in the fact that the government believes it has almost unlimited power to regulate what broadcasters can and cannot do, or say, on the "free" airwaves. Now of course even that regulation is constrained by Supreme Court interpretations of how far the government can go before violating the First Amendment. But for the sake of this discussion, we will concede that because the "free, over-the-air" spectrum was given with specific "public interest" conditions to the broadcasters, they will have to live with additional regulation of their actions. Cable does not use the public spectrum except in incidental ways, such as satellite transport, business radios in our trucks, and the like. The government has never suggested, nor would such an argument succeed in court, that because we use telephones or business radios the government therefore regulate the content and nature of our overall business. Yet that is what some members of Congress and the FCC are suggesting! It’s very fuzzy thinking. Cable is not broadcast. Our customers select to have our service come into their homes, and we offer them full control to block whatever parts they don’t want to see or use. Full editorial control is left to the consumer, not a politician or government official. That’s as it should be. Yet you are going to be hearing more and more about "imposing" the "indecency rules" applied to broadcasters to the entirely different business of cable video distribution. We have no choice but to passionately fight this idea. We cannot allow government to take control of what or when viewers can see something. We give that power to our customers, where it belongs. This is not an issue where we can compromise. Our First Amendment rights have been established. Even the "must carry" rules approved by the Supreme Court were carefully restricted, "content neutral," according to the court. They also were premised on an economic argument that even the broadcasters are now disproving. A vast majority of broadcasters now elect retransmission consent over "must carry," proving, contrary to the government’s argument that it had to intervene, that the market does, indeed, work. There are lots of legitimate concerns about the quality of information and entertainment coming into the home, by broadcast, by cable, by Internet, by satellite, by magazine or whatever. The way to address those concerns is by giving the consumer control. We already have.

The Daily


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