The majority of U.S. homes have some form of cable television; chances are you've watched some cable today. How often do we think about what governs the type of programming that gets delivered to our homes? Who decides what a channel can show on cable? Brushing up on cable television law informs the consumer on what to expect from cable television and ensures that companies comply with regulations.
The United States created the Federal Communications Commission under the Communications Act of 1934 to govern interstate radio, television, wire, satellite and cable communication. Five commissioners set FCC directives and enforce regulations. To minimize political bias, only three members may be from the same political party and none may have financial interests in any sector that the FCC regulates.
The regulation of cable TV companies can often confuse the average person due to the many regulatory constraints. Basic cable television rates are set by a "local franchising authority," any local agency that the states grant pricing authority. Pricing for services other than basic cable, such as pay-per-view and digital cable, have no state or federal regulations.
While cable companies generally have free rein to select what programming they show, some parents like to censor what programming their children may watch. The 1996 TV Parental Guidelines Act required that the cable television industry implement a self-regulatory rating system for "shows" to help a consumer decide what programs may enter the home. This usually appears as a little black box in the corner of the screen with a letter rating.
Cable System Ownership
FCC regulations generally do not allow national broadcast companies to own cable channels or cable service provider companies, but they place no such restrictions on foreign private businesses. The FCC also restricts the ownership of more than one type of cable system; for example, a company may not own a land-based cable service and a satellite television service.
To prevent a cable provider who owns a large share of a certain market from filling its airtime with affiliated programming---programs with direct ties to the cable provider---the FCC decrees that only 40 percent of programming may be affiliated. This increases competition in the programming industry and allows greater entry into the television market.
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