United States v. Southwestern Cable Co., 392 U.S. 157 (1968) (full-text).
Factual Background Edit
The petitioner challenges a Federal Communications Commission order restricting the geographic area in which a cable company could operate. At that time, cable television, then known as “community antenna television” (CATV), functioned quite differently than it does today. Employing strategically located antennae, these early cable systems simply received over-the-air television broadcasts and retransmitted them by cable to their subscribers. Although they rarely produced their own programming, they improved reception and allowed subscribers to receive television programs from distant stations. Seeking to protect Commission-licensed local broadcasters, the Commission adopted rules limiting the extent to which cable systems could retransmit distant signals and, in the order at issue, applied this policy to a particular company.
U.S. Supreme Court Proceedings Edit
The U.S. Supreme Court sustained that order, explaining that even though the then-existing Communications Act gave the Commission no express authority over cable television, the Commission could nonetheless regulate cable television to the extent “reasonably ancillary to the effective performance of the Commission’s various responsibilities for the regulation of television broadcasting.”
Although the Court recognized the Commission’s ancillary authority, it expressly reserved for future cases the question whether particular regulations fall within that power. Although the Court upheld the cable television order at issue, it declined “to determine in detail the limits of the Commission’s authority to regulate CATV.”