rules, which mandate that cable companies carry various local and
public television stations within a cable provider's service area,
have a long and dramatic history since their inception in 1972.
Designed originally to insure that local television stations did
not lose market share with increased competition from cable networks
competing for a limited number of cable channels, must-carry rules
have, over time, been ruled unconstitutional and gone through numerous
first passed in 1972, the must-carry rules required that cable companies
provide channels for all local broadcasters within a 60-mile (later
changed to 50-mile) radius of the cable company's service area.
In the mid-1980s, various cable companies, including superstation
WTBS owner Turner Broadcasting, brought suit against the FCC, claiming
the rules were unconstitutional. In 1985 and 1987, the U.S. Court
of Appeals found that must-carry rules did, indeed, violate the
First Amendment. From then until 1992, stations were only required
to carry public television signals and provide subscribers with
an option for an A/B switch to allow access to local broadcast signals.
This change bode particularly ill for small UHF stations, whose
cable carriers could replace them with stronger, more desirable
1992 Communications Act, while still requiring carriage of local
commercial and public stations, allowed cable companies to drop
redundant carriage of signals, where stations within the service
area duplicated programming (for example, two stations within a
fifty mile radius carrying the same network or two college public
broadcasting stations both carrying PBS). More confusion resulted
when, in October 1994, the FCC gave stations a choice of being carried
under the must-carry rules or under a new regulation requiring cable
companies to obtain retransmission consent before carrying a broadcast
signal. The retransmission consent ruling gave desirable local stations
increased power to negotiate the terms of carriage the cable company
would provide, including channel preference.
rules were still in effect upon passage of the 1996 Telecommunications
Act--and still being challenged by cable companies. None of the
must-carry rules effect cable retransmission of FM radio signals.
John R. Law and Regulation of Electronic Media. New York:
Prentice Hall, 1994.
Susan Tyler, Sydney W. Head, and Lewis Klein. Broadcast/Cable
Programming Strategies and Practices. Belmont, California: Wadsworth,
1981; 3rd edition, 1989.
Robert L. and Michael C. Keith. The Broadcast Century. Boston:
States: Cable Television; Distant