The FCC and “Must Carry” Provisions

The Federal Communications Commission and the “Must Carry” Provisions

Project team

Cameo Motley, Shannon Lee, Heesoo Kim, Natasha Vital



In our presentation we explored what the must carry provisions are and how they effected the interest of the cable industry and their consumers. In order to understand the “must carry” laws we felt it was important for the audience to have an understanding of the FCC and its function so we explained that. The must carry provisions occupied a large part of the cable industry. In our presentation we attempted to define, explain, and demonstrate the importance of these provisions to the way cable evolved and was distributed in different areas. While researching this law we looked for specific ways in which this law was created, revised, and what effects it had on cable companies. We found that the “must carry” law was created in order to make sure cable companies carried a variety of local and public television stations within a cable provider’s service area (60 mile radius). This was important because it insured that local television stations did not suffer from increased competition from cable channels.

To understand how the “must carry” laws effected the cable industry and consumers we looked at a few court cases and political acts. In the 1984 case of Turner Broadcasting v. FCC the courts found that the must carry law was unconstitutional on the basis that it violated freedom of speech. As a result, there was a change made in the Cable Communications Policy Act in 1984 that created a standard procedure for renewing franchises that gave operators relatively certain renewal and expediency, and it deregulated rates to that operators could charge what they wanted for different service tiers.

In 1992, the Cable Television Consumer Protection Act was reformed. In this act, the cable companies were allowed to drop redundant carriage signals to promote the availability of diverse views and information. This Act provided consumers with options regarding what was available for them to watch. Instead of cable companies dominating channels, it gave people the opportunity to view local channels as well.

The Turner Broadcasting v. FCC case came up again in 1994 but this time the decision was to reprimand the earlier decision that the “must carry” rules were unconstitutional. Contrarily, they did not believe they were unconstitutional but neither did they come up with a definite, official decision about what to do about the laws. So the case went down to another court, and in 1994, the “must carry” laws were deemed constitutional and consistent with the First Amendment.

The results we found about the “must carry” laws and its effect on the cable industry and its consumers were that the cable industry cared more about monopolizing the industry, limiting its competition, and making a profit rather than distributing a variety of information. The effect the must carry laws had on the consumers were that it allowed viewers the opportunity to be exposed to different information and a different point of view in local television as well as cable television. Research that would further help demonstrate this idea would be ‘retransmission consent: Get a greater understanding of the alternative to must carry.’, ‘Must carry in other countries: How do must carry provisions play out in other countries, such as, Ireland, Australia, India, ect.’, ‘More in depth about FCC: Find out more about the bureaus and offices of the Federal Communications Commission.’


Klinger, Richard. The New Information Industry: Regulatory Challenges and the First Amendment. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1996. (139-164)

In the chapter, author Richard Klinger explores the First Amendment and the Regulation of Competition in the New Information Industry. It does so by exploring the increasing potential conflict between First Amendment Principles and Antitrust and Common-Carrier regulations from a more broad perspective. After he explains the implications the First Amendment has on the broadcast industry and antitrust issues, he delves into specifics by thoroughly examining the Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. v. FCC court cases and their larger reverberations. This source is significant because it explains the decisions that were upheld and how they consequently affected the cable industry now as we know it and also how they further shaped our right to freedom of speech and of expression. He concludes by stating that under the framework set forth in the Turner cases, the government can defend rate regulation for information industries as directly furthering its interest in checking abuses of market power, and courts have been willing to uphold traditional rate regulation where the government can demonstrate that completion is restricted or largely absent. He also ends this chapter by leaving some food-for-thought, suggesting that we are “in the midst of a far-reaching transformation of how information is produced and delivered… Now a new information industry has emerged. Multiple outlets widely distribute voice, video, and text information products…these developments permit a dramatic expansion of First Amendment protections and an opportunity to reaffirm the essential elements of the First Amendment tradition” (162-3).

McCauley, Michael; Peterson, Eric; Lee Artz, B.; Halleck Deedee. Public Broadcasting and the Public Interest. Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 2003. Print.

This book is centered on key issues facing public broadcasting as federal funding is in decline. It takes into account how public broadcasting is not only entangled but also a significant influence in shaping how the FCC and governmental interests are reconciled with the public’s interest. Chapter 5 deals specifically with pertinent issues affecting the FCC and the public interest, in regards to how communications policies are shaped, related court cases are dealt with, and broadcasting regulated. It is significant to our research because it concludes by drawing attention to an alternative viewpoint that, “given this climate of continued disenfranchisement, the public broadcasting establishment is systematically painting itself into a box there is a growing public outcry about the ever increasing commercialization of public broadcasting in America” (58). Thus, this argument was crucial to our research in that it honestly and thoroughly examined the FCC’s role in meeting the best interest of the public, given many economical, noncommercial, educational, and governmental implications.

United States of America. National Association of Broadcasters. An Inside Look at Retransmission Consent Negotiations. Print.

This article was essential to the understanding of our topic; the article was divided into 2 sections the first of which gave a detailed list in the ways that Must Carry and Retransmission laws were beneficial to consumers. The second part of the article was broken down in to a flow chart of the to provisions, including a time line, short descriptions, all along with connecting factors which were caused due to the provisions. The work was important to our project because it was vital in helping us determine how the Must Carry Laws helped the consumer.

Must Carry Rules.” The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Web. 05 Aug. 2009. < mustcarryru.htm>.

This article’s main focus explained the definition and purpose of the “must carry” provisions in the cable industry. It also gave a brief history and timeline of important events that occurred from the beginning of the “must carry” laws in 1972 until the present. The important events that were mentioned in this article were the Turner Broadcasting suit against the FCC where the “must carry” laws were deemed unconstitutional under the First Amendment (freedom of speech) and the 1992 Communications Act that regulated the carriage of “local and commercial and public stations”. In other words, it allowed for cable companies to dismiss redundant channels.

“Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 – (c)2002-2005.” Privacy / Data Protection Project. Web. 05 Aug. 2009. <>.

This article described the definition, guidelines, and purpose of the Cable

Communications Policy Act (CCPA) that was passed in 1984. It states that the CCPA “protects the personal information of customers of cable service providers” and says that subscribers should receive a written or electronic notice of the information that may be attained. The article also gives a list the required information and rules that should be followed and included in the notice such as allowing the subscriber to know the information being used and what it will be used for, how long the information will be held, and where the customer can gain access to this information just to name a few. This article was extremely helpful for our presentation because it provided essential information on an important Act that was passed in the cable industry.

Zarkin, Kimberly A., and Michael J. Zarkin. The Federal Communications Commission: Front Line in the Culture and Regulation Wars (Understanding Our Government). New York: Greenwood Press, 2006. Ch. 5

This chapter was all about notable controversies in Mass Media Regulation. The chapter covered several moments that were pertinent to our presentation including a mention of the initial introduction of the Must Carry Laws in 1972, along with the court cases involving Turner Broadcasting Company and the FCC. This book was very helpful in that it provided a solid source from which we were able to exstract vital information about Must Carry Laws and their affects on consumers and cable companies.

“UNITED STATES: CABLE TELEVISION.” Ed. Sharon Strover. Web.  <Http://” Web.>

This site contains historical background for how Must Carry law was legislated and its impact on the broadcasting and cable industry.  It also describes how the law has been revised about the change in the broadcasting industry.  The main issue of Telecommunication Act during the history, it largely deals with 1984 Telecommunication Act, which Turner Broadcasting sue case most impacted on the effective competition of the service in the cable industry and the broadcasting.

Einstein, Mara. Media Diversity Economics, Ownership, and the FCC (Lea’s Communication Series). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2003. Print. Page.11-16

This book ‘Media Diversity’ analyzed of the regulation of diversity and its impact on the structure and practices within the broadcast television industry. I used chapter 1 as a reference which provides extensive overview of the U.S. regulatory tradition in the area of broadcasting. Specifically, attempts at safeguarding diversity of content. Einstein argues that, consistent with the First Amendment tradition, the FCC and the Congress attempted to achieve diversity of content by means of structural regulation. The chapter concludes with a brief overview of studies of media diversity, specifically diversity in television, minority and diversity, and concentration and diversity.

Other Sources

Einstein, Mara. Media Diversity: Economics, Ownership, and the Fcc (Lea’s Communication Series). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2004.

“Fact Sheet on Cable Carriage of Broadcast Stations.” Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Home Page. 26 July 2009 <>.

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