Must-Carry Must Be Dropped

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The following is a reprint (with permission) of a weekly column by Rep. Ron
Paul (R-Texas). It was posted on Paul's Web page April 26 -- the same day the House
passed the Satellite Competition and Consumer Protection Act.

It cannot be stated too often that we do not enjoy a free
marketplace in the United States. In fact, the market is fraught with government
intervention at every level. Nothing, it seems, can long escape a politician or bureaucrat
eager to shape the world in their image of "fairness."

Few other aspects of the market are as visible as
television, and it is among the most regulated of industries. Of the many almost-insane
rules and regulations that exist for the industry, one is perhaps the most ridiculous of
all.

Called "must-carry," the rule requires cable
companies to carry on their wires all of the channels broadcast in the area where they
operate. What this means is that cable subscribers are forced to pay for these channels,
even if they do not want them.

Almost worse, though, is the way the regulation limits
consumer choice.

To understand how must-carry limits choice, one must first
understand how cable television works. The company receives the broadcaster's
transmission, which it feeds into the cable. A television at the end of the line
"tunes in" as it would an antenna.

While technology is improving, there is a limited amount of
space -- or bandwidth -- on the cable. For every channel transmitted down the wire, that
is space another channel cannot use.

So while a consumer may not care in the least about the
local "all-reruns" broadcast channel, and he would prefer the
"fish-tank" network, the cable provider might not have the space to pipe it in.
Either way, the consumer finds himself paying for a channel he simply does not want, and
the cable company must waste bandwidth to provide something customers cannot stand.

Of course, one must not rush to paint local cable companies
as the victims.

Cable companies have historically been granted franchises
of monopoly privilege. When one gets in bed with government, one must expect the diseases
it spreads.

Most recently, the disease of government intervention has
come in the role of price-setter. The Library of Congress, strangely, has been delegated
the power to determine prices at which program suppliers must make their product available
to cable- and satellite-service providers.

So now, not only will the government tell the service
provider which programs to carry, but at what price to pay for the opportunity.

The biggest loser, of course, remains the consumer. All of
these questions (which channels to carry, how much the channels and carried programs are
worth) are best answered by the free market, and not by some bureaucrat working in
Washington.

Until now, must-carry rules have applied only to cable.
Now, in a misguided effort to "level the playing field," rather than to repeal
the excessive regulation on cable-service providers, Congress will consider legislation to
force "must-carry" regulation upon satellite providers. Of course, leave it to
government to want more regulations, higher costs and less freedom for consumers.

This is why I have introduced the Television Consumer
Freedom Act, which will repeal various rules and regulations that interfere with
consumers' ability to avail themselves of desired television programming.

To best serve consumers and to more fully embrace the
philosophy of the free market, Congress should act to remove the restrictive regulations
placed on the services cable companies can provide, as well as the barriers that exist
giving those companies monopolistic power.

As technology expands, we must ensure that outmoded notions
like government intervention in the market go the way of the black-and-white set and
rabbit-ear antennas.

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