Summary: S.12 — 102nd Congress (1991-1992)All Information (Except Text)

Bill summaries are authored by CRS.

Shown Here:
Conference report filed in House (09/14/1992)

Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992 - Amends the Communications Act of 1934 to prohibit a Federal agency or a State from regulating the rates for the provision of cable service, except as provided under the Act. Authorizes a cable television (TV) franchising authority to regulate such rates, but only as provided under the Act.

Bars a Federal agency, State, or franchising authority from regulating the rates for cable service of a cable system that is owned or operated by a local government or franchising authority within whose jurisdiction that system is located and that is the only cable system located within such jurisdiction.

Specifies that if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) finds that a cable system is: (1) subject to effective competition, the rates for the provision of cable service by such system shall not be subject to regulation by the FCC or by a State or franchising authority under the Act; and (2) not subject to effective competition, the rates for the provision of basic cable and cable programming services shall be subject to regulation by a franchising authority or the FCC, or solely by the FCC, respectively.

Requires a franchising authority that seeks to exercise regulatory jurisdiction to file with the FCC a written certification that: (1) such authority will adopt and administer regulations with respect to the rates subject to regulation that are consistent with FCC-prescribed regulations, and has the legal authority to adopt and the personnel to administer such regulations; and (2) procedural laws and regulations applicable to rate regulatory proceedings by such authority provide a reasonable opportunity for consideration of the views of interested parties.

Sets forth provisions regarding: (1) FCC approval of such certifications; (2) revocation of jurisdiction of such authority; and (3) the exercise of jurisdiction by the FCC if it disapproves a franchising authority's certification or revokes such authority's jurisdiction.

Directs the FCC to ensure that the rates for the basic service tier are reasonable and to prescribe regulations to carry out such obligation. Requires such regulations to include standards to: (1) establish the price or rate for equipment used by subscribers to receive the basic service tier; and (2) identify costs attributable to satisfying franchise requirements to support public, educational, and governmental channels.

Provides that certain procedures prescribed by the FCC shall require cable operators to provide advance notice to a franchising authority of any increase proposed in the price for the basic service tier.

Requires each cable operator to offer its subscribers a separately available basic service tier to which the minimum rates shall apply and to which subscription is required for access to all other tiers of service. Mandates that such basic service tier include: (1) any public, educational, and governmental access programming required by the franchise of the cable system; and (2) any signal of any broadcast station that is provided by the cable operator to any subscriber, except a signal secondarily transmitted by a satellite carrier beyond the local service area. Permits a cable operator to add additional video programming signals or services to the basic service tier.

Prohibits (with exceptions) a cable operator from: (1) requiring the subscription to any tier other than the basic service tier as a condition of access to cable programming offered on a per channel or per program basis; or (2) discriminating between subscribers to the basic service tier and other subscribers with respect to rates charged for video programming offered on a per channel or per program basis.

Directs the FCC to establish: (1) criteria for identifying rates for cable programming services that are unreasonable; (2) fair and expeditious procedures for the receipt, consideration, and resolution of complaints alleging that a rate for cable programming services violates the criteria established; and (3) the procedures to be used to reduce rates determined by the FCC to be unreasonable and to refund such portion of the rates or charges that were paid by subscribers after the filing of such complaint that are determined to be unreasonable. Outlines factors to be considered in determining the reasonableness of such rates and limits complaints permitted concerning rates existing before the effective date of such regulations.

Requires a cable operator to have a uniform rate structure throughout the geographic area in which cable service is provided.

Prohibits discrimination among customers of basic service, except that no Federal agency, State, or franchising authority may prohibit a cable operator from offering reasonable discounts to senior citizens or other economically disadvantaged group discounts. Bars a cable operator from charging a subscriber for any service or equipment that the subscriber has not affirmatively requested.

Directs the FCC to: (1) require cable operators to file certain financial information annually with the FCC; (2) establish standards, guidelines, and procedures to prevent evasions of requirements of the Act; (3) design its regulations to reduce the administrative burdens and cost of compliance for cable systems that have 1,000 or fewer subscribers; and (4) publish annual statistical reports on the average rates for basic service and other cable programming, and for converter boxes, remote control units, and other equipment of cable systems that the FCC has found are subject to effective competition compared with those that are found not subject to such effective competition.

Makes provisions of the Act (and regulations thereunder) inapplicable to a cable system during the term of an agreement by a cable operator with a franchising authority that was entered into before July 1, 1990, and that authorizes such authority to regulate the rates of such system for basic cable service, if there was not effective competition pursuant to FCC rules in effect on such date.

Requires cable operators to carry the signals of all local commercial TV stations (LCTS) and qualified low power stations in accordance with the following provisions: (1) cable operators with 12 or fewer usable activated channels must carry a minimum of three LCTS, while those with more than 12 must carry the signals of LCTS up to one-third of the aggregate number of usable activated channels of the cable system; (2) whenever the number of LCTS exceeds the maximum number of signals a cable system is required to carry, such operator shall have discretion in selecting which such stations shall be carried on its system, with exceptions; (3) cable operators must carry in its entirety the primary video and audio transmission and line 21 closed-caption transmission of the LCTS carried; (4) signals of an LCTS must be carried by the cable operator without material degradation; (5) duplicate LCTS need not be carried by a participating cable operator; (6) each signal carried in fulfillment of the carriage obligations of a cable operator shall be carried on the cable system channel number on which the LCTS is broadcast over the air, or on the channel on which it was carried on January 1, 1992, at the election of the station, or on such other channel number as is mutually agreed upon by the station and the cable operator (with disputes regarding LCTS positioning resolved by the FCC); (7) signals carried in fulfillment of the cable operator's requirements shall be provided to every subscriber of a cable system; (8) a cable operator shall identify upon request those signals carried in fulfillment of its requirements; and (9) a cable operator shall provide written notice to an LCTS that such channel is being repositioned or deleted. Prohibits a cable operator from accepting or requesting monetary payment or other valuable consideration in exchange for carriage of LCTS under these provisions, except for certain administrative costs.

Provides that if there are not sufficient signals of full power LCTS to fill the channels set aside, a cable operator with a system capacity of 35 or fewer usable activated channels shall be required to carry one qualified low power station (two stations for operators exceeding such capacity).

Outlines remedies and procedures available to an LCTS when it believes that a cable system has failed to meet such requirements, requiring the cable operator to be notified of the allegation, to respond to such allegation, review by the FCC of such complaint, and remedial actions to be taken by the cable operator upon a finding of noncompliance with such requirements. Abolishes rules requiring cable operators to provide, or provide information to subscribers on, input selector switches or comparable devices. Directs the FCC to issue regulations regarding the carriage of local commercial TV signals.

Specifies that pending the FCC inquiry on sales presentations, nothing in the Act shall require a cable operator to carry on any tier, or prohibit a cable operator from carrying on any tier, the signal of any commercial TV station or video programming service that is predominantly utilized for the transmission of sales presentations or program length commercials.

Directs the FCC to commence an inquiry to determine whether broadcast stations whose programming consists predominantly of sales presentations or program length commercials are serving the public interest. Requires the FCC, if arriving upon a negative determination, to allow the licensees of such station a reasonable period to provide different programming, without a denial of renewal expectancy based solely upon such prior programming.

Authorizes the FCC: (1) with respect to a particular TV broadcast station, to include additional communities within its TV market or exclude communities from such station's TV market to better effectuate the purpose of the Act; and (2) in considering such requests, to determine that particular communities are part of more than one TV market. Directs the FCC to: (1) afford particular attention to the value of localism by taking specified factors into account; and (2) provide for expedited consideration of such requests. Bars a cable operator from deleting from carriage the signal of a commercial TV station during the pendency of any proceeding pursuant to such provisions.

Directs each cable operator to carry the signals of a specified number of qualified noncommercial educational TV stations (QNETS) (defined as a TV broadcast station which: (1) under FCC rules and regulations in effect on March 29, 1990, is licensed by the FCC as a noncommercial educational TV broadcast station, which is owned and operated by a public agency, nonprofit foundation, corporation, or association; and (2) has as its licensee an entity which is eligible to receive a community service grant (or any successor grant) from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (or any successor organization) on the basis of a specified formula, or is owned and operated by a municipality, and transmits predominantly noncommercial programs for educational purposes), such number increasing with the number of usable activated channels offered by the cable system (ranging from one for a system with 12 or fewer activated channels to three for a system with more than 36 usable activated channels). Requires a cable system with 13 to 36 activated channels to carry at least one QNETS. Provides that duplication of affiliates of State public TV networks is not required of a cable operator.

Requires each cable operator to retransmit in its entirety the primary video and audio and line 21 closed-caption transmission of each QNETS carried on its system, as well as material necessary for the receipt of such programming by handicapped persons or for educational or language purposes. Outlines other signal carriage requirements required of a cable operator with regard to QNETS, including: (1) signal integrity; (2) channel assignments (requiring notice if a QNETS is repositioned by a cable operator); and (3) signal quality responsibilities of the QNETS. Prohibits a cable operator from accepting monetary payments or other valuable consideration (except for signal quality costs) in exchange for the carriage of a QNETS. Exempts a cable operator from being required to carry a QNETS without indemnification where the payment of increased copyright costs for a distant signal would be required of such cable operator.

Outlines remedies available to a qualified local noncommercial educational TV station when it believes that a cable operator has failed to meet carriage requirements, requiring the cable operator to be notified of the allegation, a response from the cable operator, and review of such complaint by the FCC. Requires a cable operator to identify upon request those signals carried in fulfillment of its requirements.

Prohibits a cable system or multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD), beginning one year after enactment of this Act, from retransmitting any part of the signal of a broadcast station without the express authority of the originating station or except in the case of a station asserting the right to carriage. Provides exceptions to such prohibition for certain retransmitted signals. Requires the FCC to establish regulations governing the exercise by TV broadcast stations of the right to grant retransmission consent and of the right to signal carriage. Requires the FCC in such regulations to consider the impact that the grant of retransmission consent may have on the rates for the basic service tier and to ensure that such rates are reasonable. Requires TV stations, under such regulations, to elect between the right to grant retransmission authority and the right to signal carriage. Makes such election applicable to all cable systems within the same geographic area.

Prohibits a cable television franchising authority from granting an exclusive franchise or unreasonably refusing to award additional cable television franchises.

Requires a franchising authority, in awarding a franchise, to allow the applicant's cable system a reasonable opportunity to become capable of providing service to all households in the franchise area.

Provides that nothing in this Act shall be construed to: (1) prohibit local authorities affiliated with a franchising authority from operating as MVPDs in the franchise area; or (2) require such authorities to secure a franchise to operate as a MVPD.

Authorizes a franchising authority to enforce (currently, to require as part of a franchise, or for franchise renewal, enforcement of): (1) customer service requirements of the cable operator; and (2) construction schedules and other construction-related requirements.

Directs the FCC to establish standards by which cable operators may fulfill their customer service requirements, which shall govern: (1) cable system office hours and telephone availability; (2) installations, outages, and service calls; and (3) communications between the cable operator and the subscriber (including bills and refunds).

Specifies that nothing in the Act shall be construed to: (1) prohibit any State or franchising authority from enacting or enforcing any consumer protection law, to the extent not specifically preempted by the Act; (2) preclude a franchising authority and a cable operator from agreeing to customer service requirements that exceed FCC standards; or (3) prevent the establishment or enforcement of any municipal law or regulation, or any State law, concerning customer service that imposes customer service requirements that exceed FCC standards, or that addresses matters not addressed by FCC standards.

Authorizes the FCC to: (1) determine the maximum reasonable rates a cable operator may establish for the commercial use of designated channel capacity; (2) establish reasonable terms and conditions for such use; and (3) establish procedures for the expedited resolution of disputes concerning rates or carriage.

Directs a cable operator required to designate channel capacity for commercial use to use any such channel capacity for programming from a qualified minority programming or educational programming source. Limits to 33 percent of total capacity the channel capacity allowed for such programming. Makes programming already provided over a cable system on July 1, 1990, ineligible to qualify as minority or educational programming under this provision.

Authorizes cable operators to enforce prospectively a written and published policy of prohibiting programming that the operator reasonably believes describes or depicts sexual or excretory activities or organs in a patently offensive manner as measured by contemporary community standards. Directs the FCC to promulgate regulations to limit the access of children to indecent programming as defined by FCC regulations and which cable operators have not voluntarily prohibited.

Directs the FCC to promulgate regulations to enable a cable operator to prohibit the use on its system of channel capacity of public, educational, or governmental access for programming which contains obscene material, sexually explicit conduct, or material soliciting or promoting unlawful conduct.

Makes it unlawful for a cable operator to hold a license for a multi-channel multipoint distribution service, or to offer satellite master antenna television service separate and apart from any franchised cable service, in any portion of the cable community served by that cable operator's cable system. Directs the FCC to waive such prohibition in certain instances.

Provides that nothing in the Act shall be construed to prevent any State or franchising authority from prohibiting the ownership or control of a cable system in a jurisdiction by any person: (1) because of such person's ownership or control of any other cable system in such jurisdiction; or (2) in circumstances in which the State or franchising authority determines that the acquisition of a cable system may eliminate or reduce competition in the delivery of service in such jurisdiction.

Directs the FCC to conduct a proceeding to: (1) prescribe rules establishing reasonable limits on the number of cable subscribers a person is authorized to reach through cable systems in which the person has an attributable interest; (2) prescribe rules establishing reasonable limits on the number of channels on a cable system that can be occupied by a video programmer in which a cable operator has an attributable interest; and (3) consider the necessity of imposing limitations on the degree to which MVPDs may engage in the creation or production of video programming.

Requires the FCC to establish regulations governing program carriage agreements and related practices between cable operators or other MVPDs and video programming vendors (defined as persons engaged in the production, creation, or wholesale distribution of a video programming service for sale). Specifies prohibitions to be included in such regulations relating to discrimination, conflicting financial interests, exclusivity, cost recovery, expedited review, and appropriate penalties.

Prohibits a cable operator from selling a cable system for three years after its acquisition. Provides for the treatment of multiple transfers of systems. Provides exceptions to such regulation and allows the FCC to waive such requirement in the public interest. Limits to 120 days a franchising authority's power to disapprove the sale of a cable system by an operator who has held such system for three years.

Authorizes each cable operator to identify, on a separate line on each bill sent to a subscriber, the amount of the total bill assessed: (1) for franchise fees; (2) to satisfy public, educational, or governmental channel carriage requirements; and (3) for fees, taxes, or other government charges imposed on the transaction between the operator and the subscriber.

Directs cable operators to notify subscribers of plans to offer a premium channel without charge and to block such channel upon a subscriber's request. Defines "premium channel" as a pay service which offers movies rated X, NC-17, or R by the Motion Picture Association.

Requires each cable operator to comply with such standards as the FCC shall prescribe to ensure that viewers of video programming on cable systems are afforded the same emergency information as is afforded by the emergency broadcasting system.

Directs the FCC to establish minimum technical standards relating to the cable systems' technical operation and signal quality, and periodically update such standards to reflect improvements in technology. Permits a franchising authority to require as part of a franchise provisions for the enforcement of such standards and to apply to the FCC for a waiver to impose standards that are more stringent than the FCC standards. (Current law permits the FCC to establish technical standards relating to the facilities and equipment of cable systems which a franchising authority may require in the franchise.)

Authorizes a franchising authority to require a cable operator to: (1) provide 30 days' advance written notice of any change in channel assignment or in the video programming service provided over any such channel; and (2) inform subscribers, via written notice, that comments on programming and channel position changes are being recorded by a designated office of the franchising authority.

Directs the FCC to prescribe rules and regulations concerning the disposition, after a cable subscriber terminates service, of any cable installed by the operator within the premises of such subscriber.

Directs the FCC to: (1) report to the Congress on means of assuring compatibility between TVs and video cassette recorders (VCRs) and cable systems, consistent with the need to prevent theft of cable service, so that cable subscribers will be able to enjoy the full benefit of both the programming available on cable systems and the functions available on their TVs and VCRs; and (2) issue such regulations as necessary to assure such compatibility.

Requires the FCC to determine under what circumstances to permit cable systems to scramble or encrypt signals or to restrict systems in the manner in which they encrypt or scramble signals.

Sets forth factors for the FCC to consider, including: (1) the costs and benefits of imposing compatibility requirements on cable operators and TV manufacturers in a manner that will minimize interference with or nullification of the special functions of subscribers' TV receivers or VCRs while providing effective protection against theft or unauthorized reception of cable service; and (2) the need for cable operators to protect the integrity of the signals transmitted by the cable operator against theft or to protect such signals against unauthorized reception.

States that any lawful action to revoke a cable operator's franchise for cause shall not be negated by the initiation of renewal proceedings by the cable operator.

Prohibits cable operators, satellite cable programming vendors in which such operators have an attributable interest, or satellite broadcast programming vendors from engaging in unfair methods of competition or unfair or deceptive acts the purpose of which is to hinder or prevent any MVPD from providing satellite cable or broadcast programming to subscribers or consumers.

Directs the FCC to prescribe regulations to specify prohibited conduct with respect to such programming.

Sets forth factors to be considered in determining whether an exclusive contract for satellite cable or broadcast programming between a cable operator and a programming vendor in which the operator has an attributable interest is in the public interest. Terminates the prohibition on exclusive contracts ten years after this Act's enactment date unless the FCC finds such prohibition necessary to protect competition and diversity in the distribution of video programming.

Provides for the commencement of adjudicatory proceedings by MVPDs aggrieved by violations of regulations.

Makes regulations inapplicable to contracts that grant exclusive distribution rights with respect to satellite cable programming that were entered into before June 1, 1990, except for prohibitions on practices that prevent an MPVD from obtaining programming from a vendor in which an operator has an attributable interest for distribution to persons in areas not served by a cable operator. Provides that such exception shall not apply to renewals of such contracts.

Increases penalties for theft of cable service.

Defines for purposes of customer privacy right provisions (with exceptions): (1) "other service" to include any wire or radio communications service provided using any of the facilities of a cable operator that are used in the provision of cable service; and (2) "cable operator" to include any person who is owned or controlled by, or under common ownership or control with, a cable operator, and who provides any wire or radio communications service.

Directs the FCC, after notice and opportunity for hearing, to prescribe revisions to rules concerning equal employment opportunity. Requires such revisions to be designed to promote equality of employment opportunities for females and minorities within any corporation, partnership, joint-stock company, or trust engaged primarily in the management or operation of any cable system.

Lists specified positions to which such equal opportunity requirements shall apply, ranging from corporate officers to unskilled laborers and service workers. Requires work groups within such cable entities with more than five full-time employees to file with the FCC an annual statistical report identifying by race, sex, and job title the number of employees in each category covered under the equal opportunity requirements. Outlines other report requirements and increases the fines for failure to use best efforts in meeting such equal opportunity requirements.

Bars the FCC from revising equal employment opportunity regulations currently applicable to TV broadcast station licensees and permittees. Provides for a midterm review of such licensees' employment practices.

Directs the FCC to report to the Congress on the effect and operation of procedures, regulations, policies, standards, and guidelines concerning equal employment opportunity in the cable and broadcasting industries.

Provides that any civil action challenging the constitutionality of provisions concerning carriage of local commercial or noncommercial educational TV stations shall be heard by a district court. Provides that any action holding such a provision unconstitutional shall be reviewable as a matter of right by direct appeal to the Supreme Court if such appeal is filed within 20 days after such holding.

Limits the liability (to provide only for injunctive and declaratory relief) of franchising authorities with respect to claims arising from the regulation of cable service or from a decision of approval or disapproval concerning a grant, renewal, transfer, or amendment of a franchise.

Directs the FCC to: (1) initiate a rulemaking proceeding to impose public interest or other requirements on direct satellite systems providing video programming; and (2) require, as a condition of initial authorization or renewal for a direct broadcast satellite service providing video programming, that the provider of such service reserve between four and seven percent of the channel capacity of such service exclusively for noncommercial programming of an educational or informational nature.

Authorizes a provider of direct broadcast satellite service to utilize for any purpose any unused channel capacity pending the use of such channel capacity for noncommercial programming.

Directs such providers to meet such requirements by making channel capacity available to national educational programming suppliers. Prohibits such providers from exercising any editorial control over any video programming provided pursuant to such requirements.

Requires the FCC to conduct an ongoing study on the carriage of local, regional, and national sports programming by broadcast stations, cable programming networks, and pay-per-view services and report to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Directs the FCC, in conducting such study, to analyze the extent to which preclusive contracts between college athletic conferences and video programming vendors have artificially and unfairly restricted the supply of sporting events of local colleges for broadcast on local television stations.

Specifies that nothing in this Act shall be construed to alter or restrict the applicability of any Federal or State antitrust law.