As an amendment to the Communications Act of 1934, the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 formally gave the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) jurisdiction over the cable television industry.

The act subsequently elicited several First Amendment challenges for allegedly interfering with the expressive rights of the cable industry.

The 1984 act codifies many of the regulations governing cable that had developed during the 1960s. One result was that the FCC no longer has to justify its regulation of cable television based on cable’s interface with over-the-air, broadcast television.

The four most significant provisions of the act affect:

Awarding franchises

State and local governments received power to award franchises and to determine the qualifications necessary for systems to be awarded local franchises.

State or local governments can revoke an operator’s franchise or deny renewal of it if the operator fails to comply substantially with the existing agreement, provides inferior service, proves to be legally or technically unqualified, or fails to meet the future needs of the community.

Regulating rates only

The act allows regulation of rates only for basic cable service, and then only if no effective competition exists. Cable operators claimed a victory because, given competition from other communication technologies, they perceived rate regulation as unnecessary. Those who opposed the provision argued that cable operated as a monopoly.

PEG channels

The 1984 act requires cable operators to set aside channels for public, educational, and governmental use, commonly known as PEG channels. The cable operator exercises little control over the content on these channels, which are used for a wide variety of programming, including but not limited to public meetings, delivery of instructional material, and student-produced television programs.

Progamming

Although the cable act includes a provision punishing the transmission of obscenity over the cable system, it gives cable operators First Amendment protection for program content (unlike over-the-air broadcasters). State and local government franchisors may specify the number and types of channels and authorize public access, but cannot require specific program services.

The Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992 and the Telecommunications Act of 1996 revised the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 and the Communications Act of 1934.

The primary effect of these changes was to increase competition. Although cable companies could now offer telephone services, telephone companies could also offer cable television. The deregulation of ownership rules set forth by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 encouraged mergers and buyouts of cable companies.

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