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Shaping the ‘Future of Video’

At a hearing on the future of video held by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, some members of Congress urged the Cable Act of 1992 (P.L. 102-385) be amended or repealed to provide relief to cable operators burdened by existing regulations.

At least one House member—Rep. Joe Barton, (R-Texas)—wants action amending the existing legislation in the next session of Congress. “It’s too late to do a major bill in this Congress [the 112th], but I hope in the next Congress we take this up,” he said during the June 27, 2012, hearing. The next Congress convenes in January 2013.

While Barton was vague as to what action should occur concerning which legislation, Rep. Steven Scalise (R-La.) said Congress should “focus on providing relief [to cable operators] by repealing” the Cable Act, “the intertwined” Copyright Act of 1976 (P.L. 94-553) and the Satellite Home Viewer Act of 1988 (P.L. 100-667).

However, if the Cable Act of 1992, the Copyright Act of 1976 and the Satellite Home Viewer Act of 1988 are revisited, amended or repealed as lawmakers suggest, can the Cable Communications Act of 1984 (P.L. 98-549)—which contains the public, education and government provision afforded state and local franchise authorities—be far behind? And if so, what effect would it have on the PEG channels? Should they be concerned? Well, that depends on which lawmaker is doing the talking.

Immediately after the hearing, Government Video was able to ask subcommittee Ranking Member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) if amending or repealing the Cable Act would have an adverse effect on the PEG channels.
“I wouldn’t leap frog and make the assumption that the Cable Act is going to be revisited,” she said. “Because there isn’t any consensus on [revisiting the Cable Act], I just don’t think it stands” that the PEG stations will lose the channels local cable providers now offer, she said.

However, Eshoo’s conjecture that there is a lack of “consensus” among lawmakers to potentially revisit the Cable Act can really only apply to the Democrats.

For example, Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said the options facing lawmakers on this issue are to “start deregulating cable, satellite and broadcast companies,” or “expand the Communications Act to apply to new technologies and services.” He added, “I, for one, do not believe we should be expanding video regulation.”

Committee on Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) added to the call for cable deregulation, saying, “The time may have come to pull back on the laws of Congress and let the laws of economics do more of the work.”

Therefore, if, as Barton urges, the issue of deregulating cable operators is taken up by the 113th Congress, that is only six months away. Because such deregulation could impact the PEG channels, it is not too early for them to ask their representatives where they stand on the issue. Also, they should consider supporting policy that is in their interests. That is, if they want to be part of the future of video.