During the days when the fledgling cable industry wanted to look good before Congress, it took to Brian Lamb’s great idea that we know as C-SPAN. For Americans who want their Congressional debates and hearings unvarnished and unedited, C-SPAN became almost a daily diet. People like Phil Donahue take C-SPAN as a daily tonic; they stay home with it.
C-SPAN began branching out beyond Congress, covering unedited conferences, speeches and events for a growing cable audience. Remember its series of covering the players during the 1992 Presidential Primaries, starting in New Hampshire.
Despite its success and rave reviews, the non-profit C-SPAN is coming up against a fully grown, highly concentrated and arrogant cable industry. It is being dropped in one community after another by order of the giant cable conglomerates who want its space for more junk television.
Now the major broadcasting networks themselves are creating their own cable channels and pushing the independents off the tube. Example: Fox TV has a new cable package that is replacing C-SPAN in one market after another for reruns of “Dynasty” and “Fantasy Island.”
During the debate over the cable reregulation bill in Congress two years ago, Cong. Edward Markey proposed requiring the cable monopolies to carry an insert in their monthly bill inviting subscribers to join their own statewide cable viewers action groups. Such consumer groups would have their own full-time staff to negotiate with cable operators over reasonable rates, better service and desired programming diversity that appeals to the mind and not just to the viscera.
The cable industry crushed this proposal in the House of Representatives and millions of cable customers remain without any organized voice under their control.
If you have lost C-SPAN or are about to lose it, take heart from the folks in McAllen, Texas which is not known as a hotbed of civic activism. Nonetheless, people in McAllen became upset when their cable operator jettisoned C-SPAN. They went to talk to the Mayor about their loss, swarmed over the City Council and, presto, C-SPAN is back on the air.
Remember, these cable operators have a monopoly license and local governments haven’t lost all their power over them to the cable industry-indentured, Federal Communications Commission.
To find out about how to keep C-SPAN on the television where you live, call (202) 626-7963, C-SPAN’s Viewer Services Department.
In the meantime, ponder all the hype about the exploding information highway. Where is it a highway to? What is going to travel on this highway? Who is going to control the freight and the traffic lights?
Many of these questions are now being decided by Congress under the hordes of communications lobbyists who are wining, dining, drafting legislative language and pumping campaign funds into key coffers of key legislators.
You should get involved, if you are worried that for the next umpteen years, you will be shoved aside from deciding how to use this highway, while being overcharged in case you do.
Just write your Senators and ask for information about this legislation sponsored by Senator Fritz Hollings who is trying to do a good job. Ask your Senators to send you a copy of this legislation and also tell you where they stand.