HBO v. FCC Case Brief

Summary of HBO v FCC

Citation: 567 F.2d 9

Relevant Facts: At the beginning of the 20th century, the FCC had not really imposed regulations for the production of cable (antenna) television. However, as cable became more popular, regulations became more important, and increased under the FCC. This occurred to the point in which the FCC declared that cable stations could only show movies that were more than three years old, and could only show sporting and entertainment shows and movies given certain conditions as outlined by the FCC. HBO as well as other companies that disagreed with said regulations sued the FCC for violations of free speech rights under the First Amendment.

Issues: The legal question presented was whether such FCC regulations did in fact violate the First Amendment rights of the plaintiffs (the cable companies).

Holding: The Court held that the companies’ constitutional rights to free speech had been violated.

Reasoning: The Court reasoned that although cable could be regulated in a similar manner to broadcasting channel’s, cable could not be based upon the Red Lion standard since there was no scarcity issue concerning cable’s available amount of bandwidth on the spectrum. The Court also found that cable could not be treated for legal purposes as a common carrier of regulation since it was not a public good. Lastly, the Court reasoned that regulations must be appropriate to the elements of speech afforded to cable channels, and not a blanket standard that is used with broadcasting channels.

Conclusion: This case was important because the Court used the O’Brien test in order to determine whether a governmental regulation’s burden on speech is constitutionally allowable.



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