WASHINGTON, D.C.— The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will hold a hearing next week on “The Cable Act at 20.” This hearing is a follow-up to the Commerce Committee hearing on April 24, 2012, which examined the future of online video. The Committee will consider the impact of the Cable Television and Consumer Protection Act of 1992 on the television marketplace and consumers twenty years after its passage.
“Two decades ago, we passed the Cable Act to empower consumers and provide them with expanded choices at lower rates,” said Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV. “Our hearing in April demonstrated just how much has changed in the past twenty years. But our goals for protecting consumers have not. We can’t look to the future of video without evaluating the Cable Act’s impact on the modern television marketplace and whether the legislation has achieved Congress’ goals. In particular, I want to take a close look at how we make sure that consumers do not continue to get caught in the crossfire in programming disputes, facing dark screens and losing access to news, sports, and other entertainment programming.”
Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IVChairmanU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Two decades ago, we passed the Cable Act to promote competition and provide consumers with expanded choices at lower rates. Today, many consumers have a choice of video providers – cable, satellite, and from phone companies. Hundreds of channels have been created catering to almost every interest imaginable. The Internet now allows us to watch video on not just our televisions, but our computers, tablets, and phones. I know many in the industry will argue that the Cable Act achieved its goals. I highly doubt many consumers would agree. They feel like they pay too much and have very little choice in picking the content they receive.
As this Committee continues its discussion about the future of video, we must take a hard look at the Cable Act’s impact on the modern television marketplace. I understand that some want to make this hearing about retransmission consent. And I agree that the millions of Americans who are currently victims of a number of high-profile, on-going programming disputes deserve answers as to why their screens have gone dark. Overheated rhetoric alleging greed and bad faith is of little comfort to someone paying for services they are not getting. It was certainly of no comfort to the tens of thousands of West Virginians who needed access to news, weather, and emergency information as they were recovering from a natural disaster earlier this month. When consumers lose channels in these corporate disputes, they should get a refund. It is only fair. But retransmission consent is just part of the puzzle.
Although consumers often have the choice of video providers, rates continue to go up faster than the rate of inflation year in, year out. They are tired of it. I am tired of it. And rather than being able to pick smaller packages or choose the channels they want, consumers are still forced to purchase larger and larger packages of channels no matter how few they actually watch. This says to me that the market isn’t working. Real competition should be bringing rates down. It should be driving deployment. It should be bringing consumers more choices. It should be spurring new innovative products.
Today, I want to take a close look at several core questions about the Cable Act. Why hasn’t competition succeeded in bringing rates down and more programming choices? Should the protections in the Cable Act for various entities be maintained? How do we make sure that consumers are protected and see real benefits as video moves to the Internet? To our witnesses, I look forward to your thoughts on these questions, and I thank you for joining us today.
Witness Panel 1
Ms. Melinda WitmerExecutive Vice President & Chief Video and Content OfficerTime Warner Cable
Ms. Colleen AbdoulahCEO and Chairwoman of the BoardWOW! Internet, Cable, and Phone
Mr. Martin FranksExecutive Vice President for Planning, Policy, and Government AffairsCBS Corporation
Mr. Gordon SmithPresident and CEONational Association of Broadcasters
Dr. Mark CooperDirector of ResearchConsumer Federation of America
Mr. Preston PaddenAdjunct Professor of LawUniversity of Colorado School of Law