The First Amendment Versus Municipal Regulation of Cable Television

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There's nothing Tony Ammaturo would like better than to come home from a hard day's work, prop up his feet, pop open a beer and watch an uncut movie over a cable television channel.

Ammaturo, who lives in Philadelphia's Germantown section, can't do that, but his neighbor down the street can.

His neighbor lives just across the city line insuburban Montgomery County, where local officials havedone something Philadelphia officials have not beenable to for almost 20 years--agree on a cable television franchise.[1]

Ammaturo's disappointment is not unique, for the growth ofcable television is constrained by municipal officials in citiesthroughout the country. Where cable is permitted, municipalitiesextract services such as public access channels in exchange foruse of rights-of-way. In recent years, as municipal demands havebecome increasingly onerous, cable operators have sought legislative relief. To this end, Senate Bill 66, passed in 1983, andH.R. 4103, approved by the House Commerce Committee on June 26,1984, and currently before the full House, restrict aspects ofmunicipal cable regulation. This paper briefly explores the franchising process, defines the appropriate scope of municipal cableregulation, and examines the likely effects of both bills.

William E. Lee

William E. Lee is an associate professor in the Henry W. Grady School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.