Daniels Cablevision, Inc. v. US

Decision Date16 September 1993
Docket Number92-2494 and 92-2558.,Civ.A. No. 92-2292
Citation835 F. Supp. 1
PartiesDANIELS CABLEVISION, INC., Plaintiff, v. UNITED STATES of America, Defendant. TIME WARNER ENTERTAINMENT COMPANY, L.P., Plaintiff, v. FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION, et al., Defendants. DISCOVERY COMMUNICATIONS, INC., et al., Plaintiffs, v. UNITED STATES of America, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

John Pope Cole, Jr., Cole, Raywid & Braverman, Washington, DC, for Daniels Cablevision, Inc.

Andrew Jay Schwartzman, Amedia Access Project, Washington, DC, for Consumer Federation of America, National Council of Senior

Citizens, International Ass'n of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO, Office of the United Church of Christ.

Mark Henry Lynch, Covington & Burling, Washington, DC, for Association of America's Public Television Stations, Public Broadcasting Service, Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Roy F. Perkins, Jr., Herndon, VA, for Triplett & Associates, Inc.

Robert T. Perry, Brooklyn, NY, for Paging Associates, Inc., International Television Broadcasting, Inc., Sandra Engle, TV 58 St. Louis, Inc., Morningstar Communications, Zantech, Inc., International Broadcasting Network, Sherjan Broadcasting Co., Inc.

Theodore Case Whitehouse, Brian Conboy, Willkie, Farr & Gallagher, Washington, DC, Robert D. Joffe, Cravath, Swaine & Moore, New York City, for Time Warner Entertainment Co., L.P.

James Edwin Meyers, Baraff, Koerner, Olender & Hochberg, Washington, DC, for Encore Media Corp.

Paul J. Sinderbrand, Keck, Mahin & Cate, Washington, DC, for Wireless Cable Association Intern., Inc.

Allan Abbot Tuttle, Patton, Boggs & Blow, Washington, DC, for Discovery Communications, Inc., The Learning Channel, Inc.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

JACKSON, District Judge.

The plaintiffs in these three lawsuits present facial constitutional challenges to eleven provisions of the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992, Pub.L. No. 102-385, 106 Stat. 1460, and to two provisions of the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984, Pub.L. No. 98-549, 98 Stat. 2780 ("the Cable Act" or "Acts"), contending that, for sundry reasons, these provisions infringe upon their First Amendment right to freedom of speech.1 No other infirmities are alleged in these actions, however, and the Court is therefore not called upon to address other constitutional issues that may lurk elsewhere in this landmark legislation.

The Court holds that section 11(c) of the 1992 Cable Act (insofar as it amends the Communications Act of 1934 to include new section 613(f)(1)(A)), and sections 15 and 25 of the 1992 Cable Act are unconstitutional. It concludes that all of the remaining provisions of the 1992 and 1984 Cable Acts in dispute are facially compatible with the First Amendment.

I.

The 1992 Cable Act subjects the cable television industry to extensive and unprecedented federal regulation. Controversial from the moment the legislation was first proposed, it was immediately assailed once enacted from several quarters in these and other lawsuits. The plaintiffs here are cable television system owner/operators and programmers. The named defendants are the United States and the Federal Communications Commission ("the FCC" or "the Commission"), the administrative agency charged with its enforcement.2 The plaintiffs contend that multiple provisions of the 1992 Cable Act (and, in retrospect, others of its ancestor, the 1984 Cable Act), unconstitutionally interfere with their First Amendment right to "speak" as they wish through the cable television systems they own, control or use, to the audiences of their choice.

Two other lawsuits, in which the plaintiffs challenged two particular provisions of the 1992 Act on similar grounds, were filed within days of the three lawsuits now before this Court.3 All plaintiffs in all five lawsuits challenged sections 4 and 5 of the 1992 Cable Act (creating 47 U.S.C. §§ 534 & 535), the so-called "must-carry" provisions, which require cable operators to carry programming originating with certain over-the-air television broadcasters whose signals coincide with cable operators' service areas, and all five cases were consolidated as related cases. Thereafter, the claims in all cases challenging the constitutionality of the must-carry provisions were severed for hearing, as the statute expressly requires, by a three-judge district court convened in accordance with section 23 of the 1992 Cable Act. See Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. v. FCC, 810 F.Supp. 1308 (D.D.C.1992).4 All of the plaintiffs' claims other than those involving the must-carry provisions are presently before this single-judge district court on the summary judgment motions of each of the plaintiffs; on the cross-motions for summary judgment of the federal defendants; and on the briefs and dispositive motions of the several applicants for intervention and amici.

II.

Starting from the premise of the Must-Carry Opinion — that the 1992 Cable Act is essentially a regulatory measure of economic rather than ideologic import — much of its reasoning is apposite to a decision with respect to the remainder of the Act. Congress undertook to expand and tighten government's control over that segment of the television market in which the plaintiffs traded, namely the business of delivering video signals to a major portion of the nation's homes. Congress was largely unconcerned with what was being said with those signals. It was concerned, however, that the plexuses of wires linking video "speakers" and most of the television receivers across the country remain open to transmit a diverse mix of "voices," not only the messages chosen for delivery by those who owned or controlled the cables.

Several of the provisions of the 1992 Cable Act avowedly inhibit the cable operators and programmers in making full use of the capabilities of their systems to deliver signals to their subscribers. The plaintiffs challenge these provisions largely on the same grounds on which they based their challenge to the must-carry provisions in sections 4 and 5 of the 1992 Act. See Must-Carry Opinion, supra note 4. The Act, in effect, confiscates a portion of those capabilities for use by others. In First Amendment terms — insofar as plaintiffs are deemed to be "speakers," i.e., purveyors of messages rather than of message-bearing electronic impulses — Congress has deprived them of unlimited choice as to the messages they will deliver, to whom they may deliver them, and the "speakers" for whom they will do so. It is for these reasons, as some cases have held in other contexts, that the cable operators argue that the provisions must be strictly scrutinized.

As the Must-Carry court observed, however, in its opinion rejecting similar challenges to the must-carry provisions, the crucial inquiry for determining the appropriate level of First Amendment scrutiny is not merely whether governmental regulation results in compelling certain speech, fetters the speaker's discretion in deciding what to say, or favors particular speakers at the expense of others, but is also whether the regulation is, overtly or covertly, content-based; that is, the government is telling the speaker what can or cannot be said. Constraints on speech, even if deriving from an exercise of governmental authority, need be strictly scrutinized only if the government has specified the speaker's message. See Turner Broadcasting, 819 F.Supp. at 42. Although the provisions at issue here may impose some limit on the autonomy of cable operators to speak only such speech as they would themselves pronounce, most do so only to serve regulatory goals unrelated to content. Accordingly, these other provisions, too, are constitutional, as was the case with Must-Carry, if those goals serve significant governmental interests and do not burden substantially more speech than necessary to serve these interests. Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781, 799, 109 S.Ct. 2746, 2758, 105 L.Ed.2d 661 (1989); United States v. O'Brien, 391 U.S. 367, 377, 88 S.Ct. 1673, 1679, 20 L.Ed.2d 672 (1968).5

Mandatory Carriage of Public, Educational, and Governmental ("PEG") Programming and Leased Access Channels; Rate Regulation; Restrictions on Vertically Integrated Programmers.

Section 7(b) of the 1992 Act, in conjunction with section 611 of the 1984 Act, the "PEG programming" provisions, allows local franchising authorities to require that franchise proposals submitted by aspiring cable operators contain assurances that a portion of their channel capacity will be designated for "public, educational, or governmental use." Once the franchise is awarded, the franchising authority may enforce these "PEG" commitments, 47 U.S.C. § 531(c) (1988), and the franchisee is not thereafter permitted to exercise any editorial control over the PEG programming it is obliged to carry. Id. § 531(e).

Section 612(b) of the 1984 Act, the "leased access" provisions, obligates cable operators to reserve channel capacity for use by commercial programmers that are unaffiliated with the operator.6 47 U.S.C. § 532(b)(1) (1988). Again the cable operator is prohibited from exercising editorial control over its lessees' programming, except to the extent that it may consider content in establishing a reasonable price to charge the unaffiliated lessee, id. § 532(c), and it may also decline to carry programming that it reasonably believes to be obscene. 1992 Cable Act § 10(a).

Section 19 of the 1992 Act, the "vertical integration" provisions, regulates the conduct of programmers in which a cable system operator has an attributable (i.e., a property) interest ("vertically integrated programmers" or "VPs"). Section 19 directs the FCC to promulgate regulations to "prohibit discrimination by vertically integrated programmers ... in the prices, terms, and conditions of sale or delivery of ... cable programming ... between cable systems...." 1992 Cable Act §...

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