NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 6, 2006

Cable television has great potential to make our democratic system work better, says Peter Grant of the Wall Street Journal.

According to a survey just before the 2000 election, nearly 84 percent of respondents could not identify either the incumbent or the challenger in their U.S. congressional races. On-demand TV could fight this trend by airing debates and public meetings, and devoting channels to such simple but useful subjects as the voting records of elected officials, says Grant.

But will cable operators fulfill the political potential of on-demand, asks Grant?

  • In the late 1970s, the public-affairs network C-SPAN was created in recognition of the industry's civic responsibility.
  • Today, some big cable operators, such as Time Warner, have been exploring possible programs, and Comcast -- the largest U.S. cable company -- created "Candidates on Demand" for the 2004 senate race in Colorado and for the New Jersey gubernatorial race in 2005.
  • Voters were able to watch, for free, recordings made by candidates stating their positions on major issues.
  • However, some cable operators let executives at the local level choose on-demand content, and others feel they've met their obligations with the public-access channels they are required by law to make available.

But cable companies can't legally prohibit content on certain access channels if it conforms to guidelines, so it might be time to re-examine cable's public-access requirements in light of this new technology, says Grant.

Moreover, the timing is perfect because Congress is in the midst of considering a major rewrite of the Telecommunications Act; perhaps they could negotiate a trade-off of some public-access channels for more on-demand content, says Grant.

Source: Peter Grant, "Could Giving Voters On-Demand Content Get Them Interested?" Wall Street Journal, May 31, 2006.

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