by Newton N. Minow
Cable television was the focus of intense legislative attention during the 101st Congress. No legislation was passed, although ten bills were introduced which would have subjected the cable industry to increased government regulation.1 Various provisions of these bills would have regulated subscription rates, mandated cable carriage of broadcast signals, required cable program producers to sell their programming to other media, introduced greater competition, particularly from telephone companies which are currently prevented from competing because of the AT&T divestiture, and limited foreign investment in the cable industry. These bills reflected what David Leach, aide to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, called an "undefined angst about the cable industry" in Congress.2
An important provision of many of these bills would have expanded Section 612 of the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984,3 to require large cable systems to lease a certain number of channels to other video programmers. The concept of leased access generated intense debate on important issues including the definition of "public interest" in over-the-air and cable broadcasting, the First Amendment rights of cable operators and other speakers, and the appropriate regulatory framework for cable and other new communications technologies. Although none of the cable bills was able to garner the support necessary for passage during the 101st Congress, legislative proponents of greater regulation of the cable television industry have promised to redouble their efforts when the 102nd Congress convenes in January.
For the past seven years, The Annenberg Washington Program in Communications Policy Studies of Northwestern University has provided a neutral forum, open to diverse points of view, for assessing the impact of communications technologies and public policies on a variety of aspects of American life, including education, medicine, law, politics, foreign policy, and financial markets.
The controversial issues surrounding leased access are the subject of the Program's most recent report. In "Cable Television: Does Leased Access Mean Least Access?" Donna Lampert, a Fellow of the Program, makes the case for a new, vigorous concept of leased access to assure that the public has access to diverse cable programming and to make this powerful communications technology widely accessible. Fred H. Cate, a Senior Fellow of the Program and Associate Professor of Law at Indiana University-Bloomington, argues in "The First Amendment and Compulsory Access to Cable Television" that a government-enforced right of access is contrary to the First Amendment, particularly in light of the similarities between cable television and print media. In "Cable Leased Access: A Flawed Solution Looking for a Problem," Frank W. Lloyd, a Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky & Popeo, concludes that there is no need for more stringent access requirements.
We hope that this report will make a positive contribution to the debate over leased access. As always, we appreciate your comments.
Newton N. Minow
1 H. R. 109 (Bryant); H.R. 1375 (Schumer); H.R. 2128 (Payne); H.R. 2222 (Shays); H.R. 2363 (Lent); S. 177 (DeConcini); S. 833 (Metzenbaum); S. 834 (Metzenbaum); S. 905 (Liberman); S. 1068 (Gore, Gorton, & Ford).
2 Quoted in Hill Puts Heat on Cable, Broadcasting, May 22, 1989, at 29.
3 P.L. 98-549, 98th Cong., 2d Sess., ** 612 (1984) (codified at 47 U.S.C. ** 532 (1990)).