The Cable Act at 20: Time for an Update


The following is an excerpt from the
opening statement of Sen. James
DeMint (R-S.C.) at the July 24 Senate
Commerce Committee hearing on the
Cable Act of 1992.

The communications sector, particularly video
distribution, is one of the most dynamic, innovative
and competitive in our consumer economy,
as shown in the FCC’s long overdue Video
Competition Report released last Friday.

The bottom line is our laws today do not reflect the realities of the marketplace and may actually foreclose
innovative service offerings and consumer benefits.
They instead are relics, much like the rings of an old tree,
which reveal the crises, political dynamics and technologies
of bygone eras. The law at issue today, the 1992 Cable Act,
did not contemplate the dynamic market we now have, but
rather simply answered a snapshot of the market as it was
20 years ago.

The legislation was based on a static view that did not foresee
an innovative future for video, nor expect actual facilitiesbased
competition to cable-television service. I think today’s
competitive offerings from satellite and telephone companies,
rapidly expanding online video services, and more than
500 non-broadcast networks show we are clearly not in 1992

Last year, I introduced the Next Generation Television
Marketplace Act to begin withdrawing government meddling
from the video industry. There are two primary interventions
the government has made over the years in the
video market, which my bill repeals — compulsory copyright
licenses and retransmission consent. As the committee
educates itself and moves towards action
on these issues, I want to make clear that the repeal
of both of these government interventions
must occur in tandem if we are to make lasting

My legislation does not promote or protect
one technology over another or one competitor
over another. I believe it reflects a thoughtful and
sincere interest in withdrawing the government
from the day-to-day workings of the video market
by removing obsolete and harmful regulations.

Broadcasting is a wonderful technology and industry.
I believe there is tremendous consumer interest and benefit in locally oriented programming, and I believe there
is a tremendous value which locally produced broadcast
programming brings to the market. I do not believe, however,
that local broadcasters need government intervention
to be viable. It is actually the very competition we
have today among many competing video-distribution
services that favors broadcasters.

To the extent that broadcast programming is compelling,
pay TV providers have an interest in acquiring the rights to
carry that programming on their subscription services. It is
this competitive dynamic among pay TV providers, which did
not exist in 1992, that today makes government protection of
broadcasting unnecessary. That dynamic would not change
because of my legislation.

In fact, it seems a right grounded in constitutional copyright
is preferable to a manufactured right — retransmission
consent — which will constantly be threatened by industry
lobbyists, FCC bureaucrats, and meddling politicians.