Cable TV Multibillion-Dollar Monopoly, Claim Broadcasters

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON - Broadcasters told Congress this week that the cable television industry has grown into a multibillion-dollar monopoly in the absence of federal controls and should be re-regulated to ensure the survival of free, over-the-air TV.

The broadcasters said the 1984 Cable Act essentially deregulated the cable industry and said cable companies that once were poor cousins to traditional broadcasters now dominate the local TV marketplace.

``In 1984 when Congress passed the Cable Act, cable characterized itself as a struggling, infant industry,'' said Edward O. Fritts, president of the National Association of Broadcasters.

``That act, which in essence removed all regulatory oversight, has become the communications equivalent of anabolic steroids. Today, cable television operators enjoy an unregulated monopoly. Amazingly, only 32 of more than 8,000 cable systems have any direct competition,'' Fritts said.

Fritts said cable TV now is a $14 billion industry that is available to nearly 80 million U.S. homes. He said the five largest cable companies account for more than 40 percent of current subscribers.

He said cable rates are going up and cable companies are siphoning off sports programs that once were broadcast free.

``We ask Congress to lift the thumb that has caused the imbalance in the competitive scale,'' Fritts said.

Fritts testified before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust, monopolies and business rights.

The subcommittee is studying the cable industry and the antitrust implications of the proposed merger of Time Inc. and Warner Communications. Time already has the nation's second largest cable system, American Television & Communications Corp., while Warner has Warner Cable Communications.

Opponents fear the ``horizontal concentration'' of cable interests that the merger would create, and the ``vertical integration'' of giving the nation's largest pay-cable programmer, Time Inc.'s Home Box Office, direct access to cable systems.

Subcommittee chairman Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, has expressed reservations about the proposed $18 billion merger, saying Home Box Office could be inclined to withhold its programs from non-Time-Warner cable systems. …