In Re Staff Authorization To Grant Cable Television Relay Stations and Business Radio Stations Transfer Applications From Time-Life Cable Communications to American Television & Communications Corp.
FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION
43 F.C.C.2d 983
NOVEMBER 6, 1973.
[*983] On August 2, 1973, the Commission authorized the staff to grant the applications for authority to transfer a number of cable television relay stations and business radio stations from Time-Life Cable Communications to American Television & Communications Corp. Commissioner Johnson dissented to the authorization and has now issued the attached statement.
DISSENTING OPINION OF COMMISSIONER NICHOLAS JOHNSON
The Cable Bureau responds to one of the largest mergers in the still youthful cable industry by presenting to the Commissioners, for their "information and/or discussion," some pending "applications for Commission Consent to the transfer of five Cable Television Relay and Business Radio Station authorizations..:"
This seemingly routine item casually goes on to advise the Commissioners that the American Television and Communications Corporation (ATC) is also about to acquire Time-Life Cable Communications (except for its New York City area franchises).
ATC is the fourth largest cable television company in the U.S. It currently holds over 100 operating cable companies (108 at last count) already serving 315,000 subscribers. The full potential number of subscribers for these systems is unknown. The number of additional franchises for which ATC is now competing is unknown.
What is known is that the Commission has today approved ATC's acquisition of Time-Life cable. Time-Life has 11 systems (8 in operation; 3 more franchises) with over 45,000 current subscribers. Potential subscribers for these 11 systems are unknown.
The acquisition is valued at $11,000,000.
The infant cable industry is very rapidly coming into the mold of the conventional American oligopolistic pattern -- where imitation rather than innovation comes from "competitors," and inflation rather than price competition greets the consumer.
[*984] The FCC has already created monopolies and oligopolies in two of its other major regulated industries -- telephone and television. (The 15 network-owned stations gross roughly half of the revenue of the country's 800 television stations -- in addition to the network's earnings from networking and other conglomerate enterprises.) But those industries have taken 50 years or more to reach their current status.
It is shocking that an infant industry like cable television, which has scarcely begun to toddle under the FCC's broadcaster-protective cable regulations, has already made such strides toward oligopolistic status.
At our Commission meeting discussion of this item, I made a formal motion that the Commission at least ask the Department of Justice if it might possibly have any antitrust objections to this further reduction in cable competition. The disinterest of the Commission in antitrust issues is reflected in the startling fact that such a motion could not even garner a second.
The Cable Bureau didn't even think the matter warranted a formal Commission statement. It recommended that it "proceed with the grants at the staff level." The Commissioners agreed.
The "five cable television relay and business radio station authorizations" presumably have by now been granted. The cable industry has grown more restrictive. The Justice Department has not been heard from.
It may be business as usual, but I dissent.