Thursday, July 23, 2009

United States Congress Needs to Change Cable TV Law
United States Congress Needs to Change Cable TV Law

By Evan Weiner

July 23, 2009

10:30 AM EDT

(New York, N. Y.) -- This is an open letter to the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, House Minority Leader John Boehner along with United States Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. It is time you undo the 1984 Cable TV Act and give people choices. Collectively, you are bickering over “choices” on health care, collectively abortion rights is part of the Senate’s litmus test for Supreme Court nominees with the words “pro choice” connected to any discussion, so why is there not a real “choice” when it comes to cable TV where people cannot choose what they want because of cable TV socialism where everyone pays for “basic expanded” cable TV whether they want to or not if they have cable TV?

I realize some background is needed, so Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Hoyer, Minority Leader Boehner and the two Senators, Reid and McConnell, lets go back to 1982 or 1983, you remember those days when ESPN was hanging on for dear life along with CNN and The Weather Channel and needed a life preserver from someone to keep going? That someone was the members of Congress and President Reagan as in 1984 it was decided to throw out competition laws and help the struggling networks by allowing cable companies to bundle the financially ailing networks like CNN, like ESPN into one group and sell that grouping to consumers as one instead of allowing consumers to pick and choose what they wanted.

The law that was signed by President Reagan didn’t say what networks should be thrown into the bundle, that was the business of the multiple system cable operators and the networks and that fight has not gone away in a quarter of a century as the Commissioner of the National Football League Roger Goodell can attest. The NFL Network cannot crack the basic expanded lineup of Time Warner or Cablevision. But the very anti-competitive cable TV law has created behemoths in ESPN, the three alleged news networks, MSNBC, CNN and the FOX News Channel and it has also created substandard information entities like the three cable TV where opinion shaped for an audience not facts reign supreme.

Back in 2004, Congress had a chance to change cable TV rules and regulations that would have benefited the consumer where severely hurting Disney, Rupert Murdoch, Time Warner and sports businesses in the United States. Congress, using a football analogy, punted. Congress made 2004 a good year so far for the cable-television industry. In May of that year, cable operators, sports franchises and cable-news networks along with other cable-channel owners got a huge victory in Congress when Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., conceded he did not have the support from fellow House and Senate members to introduce legislation that would have called for the re-regulation of cable television and given cable customers a choice in what channels they wanted to purchase instead of being forced to buy "bundled" channelsIt has been five years since Congress took up the issue. Congress is now controlled by the Democrats, there is a Democrat in the White House and the Federal Communications Commission has three Democrats and two Republicans. It is time, even with two wars being conducted, the economy being broken and with health care being discussed that cable TV legislation should be considered because it is an economic issue.

Why should the 92 percent of ESPN subscribers who never watch the channel pay something in the order of four dollars a month? Why should 97 percent of the people who are paying for whether it is MSNBC, CNN and the FOX News Channel be paying for something they never watch? Should the FCC ever get around to it and recommend that cable TV be made available on a per-channel basis to consumers and Congress implements changes, cable subscribers would reap the financial benefits and cable operators, sports and the cable-TV-news industry would be greatly affected. Consumers would pay only for what they want to purchase and not subsidize channels they don't want.

Major League sports lives off cable TV money, and teams such as the New York Yankees, the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox along with the Colorado Avalanche/Denver Nuggets, the Chicago Bulls, White Sox, Cubs and Blackhawks have formed cable networks to maximize their cable-TV dollars. Other teams such as the Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim have very lucrative cable TV deals Cable TV has created the great money divide between the Yankees and Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Florida Marlins and the dirty secret is that the money is being delivered by people who never watch a baseball, basketball, football, hockey, soccer or college football game.

It is blatantly unfair for the consumer.

The carnival barkers on cable TV news, the handsomely paid bunch which includes Larry King, Lou Dobbs, Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity would have to become legitimate newsman because they would have to work to produce an audience, not the small crowds or partisans they play to. Howard Stern found out that people liked to listen to him for nothing, but when he went to satellite radio, only a small portion of his listeners followed him. That is what would happen in cable the second cable TV laws are changed.

It might also force ESPN, an entity that is too far close to athletes to the point where the alleged “news” reporters appear in commercials with athletes which is a major conflict of interest and has too many partnerships with professional sports leagues, to clean up its way of reporting although that seems impossible when you have someone like Mike Lupica as a major talent on sports reporters show. Lupica has been known to pay people to tell him what has happened in games and if Mike denies it, the person he paid will be produced to explain why Mike paid him. ESPN’s senior vice president and director of news Vince Doria should be, as an old newspaper man, should be embarrassed by his product which included censoring a story that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was being sued in a civil matter because he allegedly sexually assaulted of a female employee of a Lake Tahoe, Nevada hotel when he was in town in July 2008 for a celebrity golf tournament.

ESPN tells people it has credibility in that it is the “World Wide Leader in Sports” but ESPN’s owner, Disney, never reveals just how they are funded with billions coming in from people who probably are not even aware that they are paying for the privilege of not watching the entity.

ESPN has created a perceived perception of greatest because it is ESPN.In 2004, The Concerned Women for America, along with the Parents Television Council, the Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America, petitioned Congress, asking for pro-choice when it comes to cable-television options and threw its weight behind the Video Programming Choice and Decency Act of 2004, which would give all cable subscribers the right to pick and choose what programming they want.The bill would have allow customers to pick what they want instead of having the cable company decide what is best for consumers. Cable operators and networks are dead-set against any kind of cable re-regulation, claiming that some networks would have to charge subscribers more money for their favorite channel and that other channels, which are bundled into one large cable-price group, would cease to exist because there just aren't enough people watching their programming. According to this view, it's far better to have cable-TV socialism than cable-TV capitalism.Virtually every one of cable's more than 95 million subscribers get ESPN, but if ESPN were offered on an a la carte menu, just how many people would take the service? Maybe a tenth? Maybe less? It's an answer that the Walt Disney Co. would prefer not to know. How many people would pay a premium for the Fox News Channel, CNN or MSNBC? How many would want the Travel Channel or The Weather Channel? Or the Cartoon Network? It is a question that no one in the cable industry wants answered."Basic cable" subscribers are footing the bill for every channel without having any idea that they are paying ESPN about $4 monthly or CNN more than a quarter a month, to name two networks. Bills aren't itemized, and consumers who want "basic" have to take what the cable operator gives them without choice. Cable TV should become like PBS and provide programming that appeals to consumers and get those customers to want to pay monthly programming costs.The CWA wanted control over what it considers cable-TV indecencies. And by accident, it could have changed how Major-League and big-time college sports along with every other "basic" cable channel is financed in this country. That must have been a chilling thought in cable, news and sports executive boardrooms across the country. But cable-industry executives shouldn't be worrying yet. Congress just doesn't have any appetite to change the way Americans get their cable TV.

Perhaps emerging technologies will make cable TV obsolete in a few years with broadband a likely candidate to replace cable TV especially when HDTV capabilities are unleashed on the computer. That day is not very far away but until then cable TV is a staple in many American homes.

It is time Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Hoyer, Minority Leader Boehner, US Senate Majority Leader Reid and Senate Minority Leader McConnell you give Americans a choice on cable TV like you want to do in health care or in the abortion battle. Socialism seems to be a dirty word in this country particularly on the FOX News Channel, but Congress created cable TV socialism in 1984 which allows entities like FOX News Channel, MSNBC and CNN along with ESPN to exist in today’s market. Congress needs to undo the 1984 legislation because Americans deserve better than what they get for their money.

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