C-SPAN Urges High Court to Deep-Six Must-Carry Rules

Publish date:

Washington — C-SPAN has joined Cablevision
Systems in asking the Supreme
Court to overturn the federal must-carry
rules requiring cable operators to retransmit
over-the-air TV stations that elect not
to negotiate for carriage.

“Amid today’s expanding marketplace
of program-delivery options, must-carry
is a relic of the past that should be clicked
and dragged to the recycle bin of regulatory
overkill,” C-SPAN vice president and general
counsel Bruce Collins said in announcing
the move.

The cable public-affairs programmer,
whose networks must compete for channel
space with over-the-air stations that
elect must-carry, has long argued that giving
broadcasters a guaranteed right to carriage
— while requiring networks such as
C-SPAN to vie for what space is left — violates
the First Amendment.

C-SPAN said its case is now even stronger
with a more competitive marketplace for TV
station fare. In earlier court challenges, CSPAN
has argued that A/B switches that allow
cable or satellite subscribers to switch to
over-the-air reception were a less-infringing
way to preserve access to broadcast stations.

In the 1997 second Turner Broadcasting
System vs. FCC
decision (the first case was
in 1994), the Supreme Court ruled that the
switch was not a feasible alternative, echoing
Congress’s view in enacting the 1992 Cable
Act. Today, C-SPAN argues, such a switch is
built into TVs and can be “easily” controlled
from a remote.

Cablevision last month asked the Supreme
Court to review the constitutionality
of must-carry rules, arguing that their rationale
has been gutted.