Tuesday, July 17, 2012

After 20 Years, Is it Time to Revisit Cable TV Regulation?

The Cable_Communications_Act_of_1984 was a milestone for the U.S. cable industry, ushering in a more-deregulated environment about the time that satellite delivery was about to transform the business from a "signal importation" business to an "add voice" business.

The subsequent Cable Act of 1992, on the other hand, represented a re-regulation of the industry in many respects, including pricing for the "basic" tier of service. Not surprisingly, the industry mainstay became the "expanded basic" tier.

But it has been two decades since that last major change in regulation of cable TV, and the industry has vastly changed since 1992. So the fact that the Senate Commerce Committee is holding new hearings on the 1992 Cable Act suggests a possible change could be coming.

"Re-transmission consent" will be one of the key issues on the table, according to Multichannel News. In part, that might be something of a response to the wider question of programming costs overall, as well as business relationships between distributors and content owners.

"We can't look to the future of video without evaluating the Cable Act's impact on the modern television marketplace and whether the legislation has achieved Congress' goals," said Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.)

In many ways, the Cable Act of 1992 represented the most-recent oscillation in cable TV policy, which has swung between periods of greater regulation and periods of less regulation. Based only on history, one might suggest that since the 1992 policy swing was back towards "more regulation," the next swing could be expected to be in the direction of "less regulation."

That would likely be unwelcome for TV broadcasters, among others. But it is not unusual for hearings to be held, with little substantive policy or statute changes. On the other hand, it has been long enough since that last adjustment that some change should be expected, eventually.

The difference between a cable company and a telco long ago ceased to be significant in any way except the ways those industries are regulated, for example. And network-delivered entertainment video is a business that arguably faces growing threats from outside and greater tensions inside the ecosystem.

Normally that means attackers and defenders alike will increase their agitation for "changes" in regulatory schemes.

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