Fall 1992, Volume 1, Number 2

Does new cable TV law really help consumers?

Will passage of the Cable TV Consumer Protection Act really help cable subscribers and the local governments who issue franchises to cable operators?It all depends on how the Federal Communications Commission enforces the laws provisions, say industry ana lysts and consumer advocates. In a Bill Clinton presidency, analysts predict a more activist FCC and stricter enforcement of the cable TV law.

Under the Bush and Reagan administrations, the FCC has been lax in its regulatory stance. Price controls are certain to be applied to the basic tier of cable service, a bare-bones array of channels to which almost no one subscribes. Not clear is how the FCC will regulate the tier of expanded basic services which includes such popular channels as Cable News Network, the Discovery Channel, and Nickelodeon.Some analysts believe rates for the expanded service could be regulated on a case-by-case basis d ue to customer and local government complaints.

Pay-per-view TV will remain unregulated. The law also requires the FCC to set rates for converter boxes and remote control devices and to establish customer service standards.Another provision requires cable companies which also produce programming to make their material available to rival operators at fair market rates. Designed to increase industry competition, this provision is especially important to municipalities such as Morganton, N.C. which are operating their own cable TV systems.Passage of the cable bill also bodes well for Black Mountain, N.C., which is beginning franchise renewal negotiations with Dallas-based Sammons Communications Inc.

Sammons has been the target of numerous customer complaints about service, reception and cost. Citizens for Media Literacy is assisting a group of Black Mountain residents who are seeking government, education and public access channels as part of the re-negotiated franchise award. CML is also working with Asheville city officials to explore how a public access channel can be created on the local TCI cable system, even though the franchise is not up for renewal until 2002.

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