The Chairman of the FCC appears poised to attempt yet another appropriation of private property from cable operators. This time the vehicle is a regulation that would require cable operators to carry hundreds of low-power television stations. The practical effect would be to force cable operators to devote already limited channel capacity to stations that have programming of such small appeal that there exists no market demand for it. Now, one can criticize this latest proposal on many levels - it almost certainly is unconstitutional, it is inconsistent with the Communications Act, it is inequitable, unfair, bad policy, and bad economics.
But, taking the proposal seriously, what it really suggests is that the time has come to take back the broadcast spectrum allocated to these stations and devote it to services that people actually want. The stations demanding new carriage rights can't, after all, apparently survive based on their over-the-air viewing audience, and their programming schedule is so weak that no cable operator would carry it voluntarily without a federal mandate. At some point, the federal government has to stop trying to prop up failed enterprises. In this case, the costs of doing so are measured in terms of inefficient spectrum usage and burdensome regulations on an industry that is providing a service that consumers demand in large numbers.