Nader Endorses Cable Bill With Strong Teeth

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader last week jumped into the cable “reregulation” fray by urging Congress to strengthen pending legislation to rein in what he called the monopoly practices of cable operators.

Nader, at a news conference here April 24, said he will serve as principle spokesman for a grass roots movement of labor unions, city officials, consumer groups and state attorney generals.

Specifically, Nader is calling for:

* The return of cable rate regulation to the cities.

* A provision that would require cable operators to reserve 20% channel capacity for leased or public access programming.

* Special “must-carry” status for educational, government and public tv channels.

* Stronger equal-employment opportunity provisions of existing cable legislation.

* A congressionally chartered, nonprofit “cable viewer’s group” that would serve as the cable industry watchdog. Cable programmers would be required to carry 30-second “notices” alerting the public on how to join the viewer’s group.

“It is time for renewed public activism on this issue,” said Nader. “Only with the active involvement of citizens can we hope to have a media system which significantly contributes to the intellectual and social health of the nation.”

The Nader-funded Teledemocracy Project is handling the campaign. Campaign director Jeffrey Chester said they have two goals: toughening existing cable legislation and “shaping tv policy for the future.”

Nader said cable operators have “fallen into a very narrow mercantile rut” since being deregulated by Congress in 1984. That “rut” has led to huge rate hikes without an accompanying degree of accountability, he claimed. Moreover, the industry has failed to live up to its promise of providing program diversity and access to the public.

National Cable Television Assn. prez James Mooney dismissed Nader’s involvement in the cable rereg fight. “All high-profile regulatory controversies eventually attract the attention of Mr. Nader,” said Mooney in a prepared statement. “We are surprised neither by his appearance nor by his degree of ignorance of the cable business exhibited by his press release.”

NCTA officials said Nader’s announcement contained glaring errors. One of the “mistakes,” per an industry spokesman, was Nader’s claim that Time Warner cable subsidiary ATC’s programming expenses grew just 15.2% from 1984 to 1990. Cable programming expenditures as a whole were up 240% during the same period, claimed the NCTA spokesman.

Nader said he also hopes to convince Congress to pass “audience-network” legislation that would require commercial broadcasters to set aside one hour each day during primetime for use of the airwaves by the public. Broadcasting, said Nader, is the “only landlord-tenant relationship in the United States where the landlord receives no rent and access to its own property.”

The audience-network proposal will draw little support from lawmakers, said one congressional source.

The Nader press conference came one day after a survey was unveiled claiming that cable rates are growing at twice the rate of inflation.

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