The FCC and the Politics of Cable TV Regulation, 1952-1980: Organizational Learning and Policy Development

by Michael Zarkin


*This book is in the Politics, Institutions, and Public Policy in America book series
(Series editors: Scott Frisch and Sean Kelly)

From the 1950s to the 1970s, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) struggled to integrate cable television into the existing framework for US communications regulation. Because cable was technologically distinct from existing communications technologies, it was not clear whether or how the new medium could be regulated. By the early 1960s, however, concern that cable might cause economic harm to the traditional broadcasting system caused the FCC to spring into action. For nearly a decade, the FCC struggled to design an appropriate regulatory regime for the new medium, undertaking three major regulatory proposals before arriving at what seemed like a workable framework in 1972. Nevertheless, over the next eight years the FCC repealed key regulations enacted just eight years earlier. Although the agency struggled for nearly three decades, it eventually learned valuable lessons concerning the nature of cable television and the most appropriate regulatory strategy for the new medium.

While other studies have examined the history of cable television regulation, none has fully explained why the FCC struggled to develop regulations during its formative years. In this study, Michael Zarkin helps fill this gap by providing such an explanation through an application of organizational learning theory. Zarkin argues that in order for the FCC to formulate regulations for a brand-new communications medium, it first needed develop and effectively utilize the capacity to gather and analyze policy-relevant knowledge. By the 1970s, conditions were ripe for this to happen, and the FCC was able to more effectively revise its cable television policies.

This book elaborates and applies an organizational learning framework that contributes to our understanding of how regulatory agencies operate. By employing a broad range of published and unpublished primary sources, the book also succeeds in providing a more detailed and penetrating study of cable television than previous endeavors. Rather than simply summarizing and critiquing policy decisions, the book paints a picture of the people, ideas, and politics that shaped cable television regulation during these formative years.

The FCC and the Politics of Cable TV Regulation, 1952–1980 will be of interest to scholars who study regulatory agencies, the policy process, and communications law and policy.


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