With the advancement of communications technology, cable television joined conventional broadcast radio and television. Cable television stands for community antenna television (CATV). It is a technology that enables inaccessible areas to receive broadcast signals that otherwise would not have reached such remote destinations. The Federal Communications Commission is the authority that regulates cable television in the US.
Unlike broadcast television and radio, cable television is not broadcast across airwaves. It is transmitted through coaxial cables that can carry over two hundred channels. This technological difference is legally significant. In as much as broadcast systems are handicapped by the limited capacity of air waves to accommodate larger number of channels, these have to abide by more stringent government regulations. In the absence of such checks and balances competing voices on the congested airwaves would drown each other out.
For a long time the government did not feel the necessity to regulate cable television since it does not rely on air waves for transmission, unlike broadcast television and radio.
In 1984 the congress passed the Cable Communications Policy Act. This federal law sought to reconcile the demand of the cable operators for lesser regulation on one had with social issues of public policy concerns on the other, such as coverage of poorer localities under the cable network and introduction of educational and government programs on the cable channels.
A debatable issue is if a designated area can be the domain of a single cable operator under monopoly franchise. Under the provisions of the Act though a franchising authority for a city or county can award more than one franchises within its own jurisdiction, yet in practice they have mostly preferred to have only one cable operator in each area.
Moreover the franchising authorities are empowered under the said Act to ask the cable operators to reserve channel space for educational, government and public programs. They can also ask the Cable operators to provide channel space on lease or similar arrangements to private parties not related to the cable operator.