The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

TV Viewing for the Next Generation

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact

Today’s TV viewing options are much different than when Congress passed the Cable Act of 1992.  This Act was passed in response to cable television rate increases following deregulation, a lack of competition in the cable marketplace and the concern of broadcasters that their local stations would not be carried by cable companies.  The law prohibited cable operators and other multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs), which now include satellite and fiber optic networks, from rebroadcasting or “retransmitting” commercial television, low power television and radio broadcast signals without first obtaining the originating broadcaster’s permission.

Consumers now have choices in viewing options ranging from cable and fiber optic networks on the ground, to satellite feeds and online distribution of programming.  According to a Nielson Company report entitled Viewing on Demand: The Cross-Platform Report, in the second quarter of 2013, television programming was distributed across a number of different platforms: wired cable (56.621 million households); satellite (35.243 million households); broadcast only (10.947 million households); and, telephone fiber networks (10.857 million households). 

The summer of 2013 was marked with a retransmission dispute that led to the blackout of broadcast signals to millions of Americans.  This was not an isolated incident.  Time and again, disputes between MVPDs and broadcasters has led to blackouts of television shows that included the 2010 World Series and Oscar Awards, as well as the loss of local Fox stations by Midcontinent Communications subscribers in Minnesota and North Dakota in April 2012 among others.  No longer dealing with a single cable monopoly, broadcasters hold enormous negotiating power under old retransmission consent rules with the various MVPDs.    

On December 13, 2013, Reps. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) introduced H.R. 3720, the Next Generation Television Marketplace Act.  This bill will repeal mandatory carriage and purchase of certain broadcast signals by cable operators, satellite operators, and their customers; repeal “retransmission consent” provisions and the Copyright Act’s compulsory licensing provisions; and repeal ownership limitations imposed on local media operators, which will allow businesses to evolve and adapt to today’s dynamic communications market.

The old cable television regulatory structure reduces competition by undercutting smaller providers’ ability to compete on price, increases costs for consumers, and frustrates millions of Americans by shutting off popular programming at peak viewing periods.  This legislation would remove the regulatory interventions that impede the free market and lead to blackouts of broadcast and network television services, and should be included as part of the discussions on reforming the Communications Act of 1934 in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.




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