Federal Preemption of Local Regulation of Cable Television
Thomas W. Hazlett
It seems almost suicidal, on a panel advertising such exciting issues as the media and public opinion, to focus on the intellectual depressant: government structures. Even more life threatening is to introduce a very particular history of a very particular industry: the cable television sector. Hence, my death-defying talk on this panel is billed, "Federal Preemption of Local Regulation of Cable Television."
Before you suggest that your doctor assign this paper to patients allergic to the traditional painkillers, let me make a desperate pitch for why this may be an illuminating and, possibly, even entertaining foray. First, the development of cable television, now well into its fifth decade in the U.S.A., illustrates some highly typical tussles between the various levels of government. Local, state, and federal governments have all been involved in promoting--or retarding--the growth of cable television. 1 Second, these regulatory battles have involved fundamental First Amendment, freedom of the press, dimensions. Often these have involved implicit or explicit attempts to use the evolving technologies of on-line television to inform, explore, or otherwise impact public opinion. Third, in excavating the actual history of the U.S. regulation of the cable TV market, we might focus our discussion on government regulation with far greater precision. Distinct from theoretical argumentation, where the "public interest" is promoted in an abstract future sterilized with the author's own unspecified antiseptic, the track record of