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Revisiting Cable Act Urged by Some Members of Congress

Amending federal legislation could affect the education stations that cable providers now carry

Despite some Republican members of the House of Representatives urging, at a hearing on the future of video, that the Cable Act of 1992 (P.L. 102-385) be amended or repealed, the Democratic ranking member is skeptical the legislation will be revisited. However, revisiting the Cable Act could affect the education stations the act now directs be carried by cable companies.

“I wouldn’t leap frog and make the assumption that the Cable Act is going to be revisited,” House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology Ranking Member Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., told Government Video following the June 27, 2012 hearing. In addition, “because there isn’t any consensus on that (revisiting the Cable Act), I just don’t think it stands,” the public, education or government stations will lose the channels local cable providers now provide, she said.

Nonetheless, Rep. Steven Scalise, R-La., said, both technology the “video market place” have changed from the time the Cable Act of 1992 was written and there is a need to “modernize” the “decades old regulatory frame work.”

Under the current legislation, traditional distributors remain subject to “archaic regulations,” while new interests “operate virtually free of the heavy hand of government,” Scalise said. Therefore, Congress should “focus on providing relief by repealing the intertwined” Copyright Act of 1976 (P.L. 94-553) and the Satellite Home Viewer Act of 1988 (P.L. 100-667) which both contains compulsory copyright provision governing cable companies,as well as the Cable Act of 1992, he added. “Taking away these government intrusions will level the playing field for content creators and video distributors alike,” he said.

In addition, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said it is “too late to do a major bill in this Congress (the 112th), but I hope in the next Congress we take this up.” While Barton wants to revisit legislation that governs the cable industry, but he did not list any specific laws or regulations that he believes needs to be revisited. He did say, “In general I think we’re better off having less regulation, and more enterprise and more market competition.”

Barton also said any effort to change existing legislation governing cable systems has to be bi-partisan. “If we’re (the Congress) going to do big things, it has to be done on a bi-partisan basis. This is not a partisan issue, it will go nowhere if it comes to R (Republican) versus D (Democrat).”

Further, because the focus is on the next Congress—which convenes in January 2013—it is too early to discuss provisions of any bill, said Michael Powell, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, who was on the panel of witnesses appearing before the subcommittee. If the next Congress does revisit the Cable Act of 1992—or other legislation affecting the PEG channels—such an effort is too far in the future to say if NCTA would oppose a renewal of the current PEG provisions state and local franchise authorities have, he said.

“We’re a long way from committing to any specific element of legislation,” Powell said, who added, “We (NCTA) haven’t done the work yet to develop our position, so I’m not ready to say an answer to that,” he said.

Click here to view the hearing.