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'Must Carry' Rule for Cable TV

January 20, 1994

* In the pending U.S. Supreme Court action regarding the "must carry" rule for cable television operators, a comparison between cable providers and newspapers is made (Jan. 13). The argument that cable companies can invoke constitutional protection in their decision of whether to carry local broadcast stations is absurd.

Let's get some facts straight. Local stations, both television and FM radio, are granted licenses to broadcast by the FCC that mandate at least some air time to "community service" programming. Failure to serve this public trust can subject a licensee to action including fines and license revocation.

Cable companies, on the other hand, are de facto monopolies, and as such they should be treated as public utilities. Many homeowners and virtually all apartment and condominium dwellers have community restrictions that preclude their right to install an outdoor antenna to receive off-the-air television and FM signals. A consumer has no choice but to subscribe to the cable provider's station selection or to receive nothing. Cable companies, therefore, hold the key to the gate for all information seen and heard in the homes that they service. Newspapers, in distinct contrast, do not control the content of all printed sources of news and information in their readers' homes.

Because of this unparalleled control, cable providers must be compelled to provide both TV and FM service for all channels that would be readily receivable by outside rooftop antennas in the area they serve. Large cable operators can and do gerrymander their definitions of local reception areas, arbitrarily dropping broadcast stations that would be receivable in much of their service area.

Recent re-regulation of the cable providers has not only failed the public in remedying outrageous pricing practices of the industry, but does not go far enough in protecting the right of subscribers to see and hear the very stations that have the legal mandate to serve their respective communities. The Supreme Court should reject the cable operators' attempts to strike down the "must carry" rule.

ROBERT L. STEIN

Laguna Niguel

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