The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing titled “The Cable Act at 20” next Tuesday. Billed as a follow-up to a hearing on the future of online video in April, this hearing will feature the Cable Television and Consumer Protection Act of 1992 and its effects on today’s television marketplace and consumers twenty years later.
A key issue likely to be raised at this hearing is the Must-Carry law that enables many local television broadcast stations, including Christian stations, to be viewed on pay-TV platforms. Today’s Must-Carry rights were enacted by Congress in 1992 under the Cable Act and upheld by the Supreme Court in 1997. Congress then found that cable systems have an “economic incentive” to “delete, reposition, or not carry local broadcast signals” and that, without Must-Carry rules, the “viability” of broadcasters “will be seriously jeopardized.”
At a related hearing in the House last month, Panelist David Barrett, President & CEO of Hearst Television, spoke on behalf of broadcasters and highlighted the importance of Must-Carry law for local broadcasters providing foreign language, religious, and ethnic programming: “These stations often target audiences whose needs are not being met by other programming sources. Because these stations serve narrower audiences, the ability to elect mandatory carriage is important to their continued survival. Carriage of these unique stations‘ signals is important to the diversity of both free over-the-air broadcasting and to the diversity of programming available via MVPD service.” In addition, before that hearing, Dr. Frank Wright, President & CEO of NRB, declared, “Faith-based programming should have an important place in the future of American media. I… encourage Members of the Committee to be careful not to harm long-serving religious TV broadcasting ministries by weakening sound and unobtrusive ‘Must-Carry’ law.”
In advance of the Senate Commerce Committee hearing next week, Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) stated, “Our hearing in April demonstrated just how much has changed in the past twenty years. But our goals for protecting consumers have not. 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.” He and Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) have invited several panelists to testify, including former Senator Gordon Smith, President & CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters, and Melinda Witmer, Executive Vice President & Chief Video and Content Officer of Time Warner Cable. This hearing will be on Tuesday (July 24) at 2:30 p.m. ET in Room 253 of the Russell Senate Office Building. It will also be streamed online at http://commerce.senate.gov/.
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President Government Relations