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In addition, broadcasters were to present "both sides" of controversial issues and provide opportunities for rebuttal of any material they carried (the "fairness doctrine"). They also had to give "equal time" to all qualified candidates for public office. Radio and TV stations also had to carry a certain amount of "public interest" programming, which in practice means programming that is-in the judgment of the regulators-"good for" the public but which has such a small audience no advertiser will pay for it.
It should be evident that all these doctrines and requirements, if applied to the printed media rather than the electronic media, would be a violation of the First Amendment.
Perhaps the first conflict between DBS and regulation will come in the area of localism. The so-called footprint of a direct-broadcast satellite-the region over which a satellite's signal can be received by a homeowner's dish-can readily be half the nation, and most operators are planning their footprints to cover essentially a whole time zone. It would make no economic sense to restrict the size of the footprint to a single metropolitan area. In fact, among the virtues of DBS is its ability to bring broadcasting to rural areas now "underserved" by conventional TV and too thinly populated for cable TV. Another virtue is its ability to aggregate a "thin" audience over a wide geographic area. For example, there may not be enough Shakespeare lovers in a single city to justify frequent broadcast of the bard's plays, but there might well be enough of them in a whole time zone to make them a worthwhile audience for frequent "specials."
To impose localism on DBS would destroy it, and the service is politically too popular for that to happen. But if DBS is freed of the localism requirement, what about terrestrial TV-can TV compete effectively with DBS when it labors under the burden of localism? And if not, will the FCC remove the burden? Either way, the regulators are faced with a dilemma of their own making.
A second area of conflict between DBS and regulation involves the First Amendment. The new technology poses a whole host of problems that simply wouldn't exist if the electronic media had First Amendment protection.
Users of the airwaves are classified into different categories for regulatory purposes. For instance, "common carriers" are regulated on rates but not content; "broadcasters" are regulated on content but not rates. If a DBS provider produces its own programming-as Satellite Television Corp., a Comsat subsidiary planning to start up DBS service later this year, proposes to do-is it a broadcaster? If a DBS provider simply carries the programming of others, as Western Union proposes to do, is it a common carrier? If it does some of both, what is it then? And in that case, should the DBS operator be regulated on rates or content, both or neither?
This problem is particularly acute in the case of DBS, because the so-called early entry operators-those who propose to use existing low-power satellites to begin broadcasting instead of waiting to construct their own more-powerful ones-plan to lease transponders on satellites in what the FCC calls the "fixed satellite service." The operators of these satellites, which have been licensed by the FCC as common carriers, will simply lease their satellites to the DBS services. Who gets regulated-the broadcaster? the satellite owner? And on what-rates? Content? And how does that differ from the way those operators who build and own their own satellites will be regulated?
Direct broadcast satellite TV signals are intended to be received directly by individual viewers. However, it's likely that cable-TV operators will also want to carry DBS programming, and so will so-called satellite master antenna TV (SMATV) operators. (In an SMATV system, a satellite dish receives signals and distributes them over a private mini-cable-TV system in apartments, condos, office blocks, housing developments, mobile-home parks and so on.) Will these redistributors be regulated? If so, then, by the same logic, would individual homeowners who also receive the signal be candidates for regulation, as well? If not, then why regulate the satellite operators, who also "distribute" the signal to the homeowner? And if they are to be regulated, will such regulation be of rates or of content-or of both?
Some DBS programming will be free to the viewer, since it will either be advertiser-supported or paid for by the broadcasters (religious broadcasts, for example). Some, however, will be similar to pay-TV: the signal will be scrambled, and only those who have paid for the program (and the unscrambling device) will receive it. Some DBS operators plan a "monthly" payment for their programs, such as cable systems now use. Others plan "pay-per-view," using so-called addressable decoders. In either case, if you don't pay, you don't see the program. And this, too, has implications for regulation: will the content of DBS pay-TV programs be regulated just as is the content of today's terrestrial TV?
Part of the argument for content regulation arises from the fact that radio-waves are ubiquitous-they literally fall on your doorstep. The argument goes that you should have some control over what enters your house, and since you can't shut out the radio-waves, what goes over them should be regulated. But this argument falls flat when the programming is scrambled and you must pay to see it. Why should it be regulated any more than is a book or a newspaper that you must buy in order to read?
The possibility of "teletext" also raises regulatory issues. Television pictures are transmitted at the rate of 30 per second. Each is a still picture, but the pictures are replaced so quickly that they provide the illusion of motion. In between the individually transmitted pictures is the "vertical blanking interval," in which no signal is sent. From the standpoint of TV transmission, this is simply a wasted resource.
Teletext is a scheme for using this blanking interval to send text and graphic information by broadcasting such data as a series of "pages," carousel fashion. A decoder in your set can grab this information and display it on the screen, instead of displaying the regular program. You select one page out of the sequence to be stored in the decoder and displayed on your screen as long as you want it.
Teletext amounts to an electronic newspaper. It can carry the same news as a regular paper, but with both more depth and more breadth, since not everything will be delivered to everyone. You choose what you want to see and pay for only those portions for which there is a charge. Operators of DBS services will undoubtedly want to include teletext among their services, since it will increase their revenues. Their geographically widespread audiences make teletext even more desirable for them than it is for terrestrial TV broadcasters. The regulatory question that emerges is, will teletext be regulated when the very same news and advertisements appearing in printed newspapers are unregulated?
The original reason for denying First Amendment protection to radio broadcasters was that frequencies were "scarce" (never mind that newsprint, ink, and printing presses are also economically "scarce"). Direct broadcast satellite TV yanks the props right out from under that argument. If even half the current DBS applicants actually get satellites in orbit and operating, the typical homeowner will be able to choose among 10 to 15 channels. That is more channels than there were daily newspapers in this country when the First Amendment was adopted.
During the infancy of the broadcast industry , when there were only two or three TV stations in a town, the government could get away with the scarcity argument (even though it was the FCC, through its localism doctrine, that had created the scarcity in the first place). But as DBS services get off the ground, the scarcity argument will become an empty one. Indeed, DBS may provide the final push necessary to get First Amendment protection for the electronic media.