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The commercial exploitation of television did not begin in the United States until the late 1940s. The FCC followed its example from radio and established licensing procedures for stations seeking permission to transmit television signals. It became the oversight body for the U.S. television industry.

The FCC has applied to television a prohibition similar to that imposed on radio against the broadcast of obscene and indecent material. For purposes of parental control, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 mandated the establishment of an advisory committee to rate video programming that contains indecent material. The act also stated that, by 1998, new television sets had to be equipped with a so-called V-chip to allow parents to block programs with a predesignated rating for sex and violence.

Cable television became a viable commercial form of telecommunication in the 1980s. Both the FCC and local governments had an interest in regulating cable systems, with municipalities awarding a cable system franchise to one vendor. Cable operators negotiated system requirements and pricing with local governments, but federal law imposed some restrictions on rates to consumers. Concerns about rate regulation led Congress to enact the Cable Television CONSUMER PROTECTION and Competition Act of 1992 (Pub. L. No. 102-385). The act gave the FCC greater control of the cable television industry and set rate structures to control the price of cable subscriptions. The Telecommunications Act of 1996, however, reversed the 1992 act by ending all rate regulation. The act also allowed the seven regional telephone companies to compete in the cable television market to end the monopoly that cable systems had enjoyed under the previous regulatory scheme.

For customers who cannot obtain cable television programming, the transmission of television signals by satellite has been a practical solution. Since their introduction in the 1990s, direct broadcast satellite systems have competed with cable television systems, offering high-quality video and audio signals, and access to a wide range of programming.

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