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The Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 ("Cable Act") represented the first comprehensive federal law governing the no-longer new communications technology of cable television. After years of confronting a "patchwork" of federal, state, and local regulation, the cable industry, government regulators, and the public were told that the Cable Act would create a "national policy concerning cable communications," and firmly "establish guidelines for the exercise of Federal, State, and local authority."

Unfortunately, the Cable Act failed to fulfill its numerous objectives. Advertised as a careful balance, the Cable Act was administratively and judicially converted to a lopsided grant of victory to the cable industry. Proclaimed a harbinger of clarity, the Cable Act led to frequent litigation over the meaning of its most basic terms.

This Article examines what went wrong with the Cable Act and why it was unable to fulfill its original lofty promise.