Academic journal article Communications and the Law

Legal Issues concerning Cable Television: The Greek Case

Academic journal article Communications and the Law

Legal Issues concerning Cable Television: The Greek Case

Article excerpt

This article examines issues concerning cable television, such as access, from an institutional perspective, but also emphasizes legal, regulatory, political, economic, and technological aspects. References to the European Union regulatory framework are made, and Greece is used as a case study to establish explicitly the nature of the problems concerned and to identify the access potential of the medium.

The article is divided into four parts. The first part sets the scene by exploring some basic facts about cable TV and assessing its potential. Part two deals with the legal delimitation of the medium. The primary focus is on establishing that cablecasting and broadcasting are indistinguishable from both a legal and a substantial point of view. The third part is concerned with issues such as passive and active access to cablecasting. The last part presents the Greek case by outlining the previous and current legislation and assessing future prospects.

I. SOME BASIC FACTS

Cable television involves the transmission of electrical signals over wires to television sets. The technique involves a studio, the "head-end," and coaxial cables (now boosted by optic fibers) which physically connect the head-end with the television set of every user of the network.(1)

The development of new communication technologies, of which cable forms an integral part, has revolutionized the broadcasting industry and was central to the deregulation of broadcasting worldwide (along with, of course, political and economic factors). Historically, consumer access to TV (and radio) programming depended on terrestrial broadcast stations. The development of new distribution systems has greatly expanded the potential sources of supply of all types of media products. Media firms today, for example, can deliver TV programming to viewers through distribution systems that include terrestrial broadcasting, cable systems, multi-channel multi-point distribution systems (MMDS), and direct broadcast satellite (DBS) service.

Cable TV originated in the early 1950s in the United States as a service to households in mountainous and geographically remote areas where reception of over-the-air TV signals was poor. Antennas were erected on mountaintops or other high points and homes were wired and connected to these towers to receive the broadcast signals. Throughout the 1970s, continued lessening of cable restrictions, coupled with cable's pioneering of satellite communications technology, led to a pronounced growth of services to consumers and a substantial increase in cable subscribers. While during the 1980s the delivery of programming via satellite was evolving, the 1990s witnessed an explosion in the number of cable program networks which led to the emergence of local/regional services available and to targeting programming to a specific "niche audience." Today, cable companies fully enter the wireline and wireless telephone and data services markets. Cable also promises to be a major player in online services, data delivery, and high-speed access to the Internet. The significance of the medium can be seen by examining the steadily increasing penetration rates across Europe (see Table 1). Cable's capacity to carry huge amounts of information and its potential for two-way communication (i.e. interactivity) were cited as "revolutionary" both because neglected voices could find expression through that new medium and because interactive communication could alter the nature of broadcast communication itself. It was primarily that abundance of choice that undermined the traditional rationale for regulation and led to demands for relaxation of regulatory controls, particularly concerning cable TV.(3) Cable TV was seen as the medium through which minorities, non-profit organizations, and other groups normally left out by conventional television could have access to consumer-citizens. However, the limitations of cable TV to deliver the optimal access and choice levels to viewers are well reported in a number of works. …

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