In 1971, the Legislature established the Massachusetts Community Antenna Television Commission "to authorize. . . the installation of community antenna television systems in cities and towns of the [C]ommonwealth and to provide for the regulation thereof by such cities and towns and the [C]ommonwealth. . . ." In the years since the Legislature issued this grant of authority, what began as a service designed mainly to deliver off-the-air broadcast signals to rural and mountainous areas has become an $800 million industry in Massachusetts. While some households still rely on antenna reception, the principal alternative to cable television has been satellite television. In recent years, cable operators have altered service structures to compete more successfully not only with satellite providers, but with new technologies and new entrants to the marketplace, such as competitive overbuilders and municipally-owned companies. To this end, cable operators have begun a move toward offering bundled services, such as cable television, telephone, and cable modems. In recognition of the convergence of industries, the Legislature merged the Massachusetts Community Antenna Television Commission into the Department as the Cable Television Division ("Cable Division") in 1997.
Cable television continues to be regulated on the local, state, and federal level. Under its enabling legislation, G.L. c. 166A, and implementing regulations at 207 C.M.R. § 1.00 et seq., the Cable Division:
- Oversees cable television franchising by municipalities;
- Establishes basic service tier programming and equipment rates for communities have requested rate regulation and that are not subjected to effective competition ; and
- Enforces consumer protection standards .
The Cable Division currently oversees cable television operators serving over two million cable subscribers in 308 of the Commonwealth's 351 cities and towns.