Topic:
CABLE TELEVISION; FRANCHISES; PUBLIC UTILITY RATES;
Location:
TELEVISION - CABLE;

OLR Research Report


January 31, 2008

 

2008-R-0093

STATE JURISDICTION OVER CABLE TV COMPANIES

By: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst

You asked for a discussion of (1) the state's jurisdiction over cable TV rates and (2) its ability to require that a specific sports channel be carried on a cable company's basic service tier.

Federal law (47 U.S.C. 521 et seq.) sharply limits the state's ability to regulate cable rates. Under the law, cable franchising authorities such as Connecticut's Department of Public Utility Control can regulate rates only for the basic service tier. They can only regulate these rates in accordance with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations, which are very specific. And their ability to regulate these rates ends once a cable company becomes subject to “effective competition,” for example, from satellite dish providers, as defined by federal law.

In addition, a state law passed last session (PA 07-253) allows cable companies that face competition from competitive video services providers, e.g., AT&T, to obtain a new certificate in lieu of their existing franchise. The act exempts cable companies with the new certificates from rate regulation. Most of the cable companies have applied for or received the new certificates.

The federal law also precludes franchising authorities from requiring that a specific sports channel be carried on a cable company's basic service tier. Franchising authorities can enforce agreements in franchises regarding “broad categories” of programming. However, the franchising authority cannot require a cable company to reinstate specific programming. All it can do is to require the company to reinstate the type of programming it had previously provided under the franchise agreement. (Jones Intercable. Inc. v. City of Stevens Point, Wis., W.D. Wis. 1990, 729 F. Supp. 642.) As the FCC notes, “in general, the decisions concerning what services to offer and on which tier to offer those services, are within the discretion of the cable operator [company]” www.fcc.gov/cgb/broadcast.html.

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