Some people in Delaware cannot understand who is benefitting from federal regulation of cable television operations there.
So, they have asked the Federal Communications Commission to forget about Delaware, and stop regulating cable TV.
Since Delaware is the only state in the union without its own commiercial television station, it is sorely lacking in television news and public affairs programming for residents of the state.
But present federal regulation prevents many of the cable operations in the southern part of the state from carrying some Philadelphia stations that cover Delaware news public affairs programs.
Currently Sussex residents can receive cable transmission from Baltimore (network affiliates), Washington (one independent) and Salisbury, Md., television stations.
FCC signal carriage rules exclude Philadelphia stations from the area because they were not carred there before 1972, when the law prohibiting cable transmissions from that distance were created.
But, as Sen. Joseph Biden, Jr., (D-Del.) said in a letter to the FCC, "Baltimore offers absolutely no coverage of Delaware."
Since Delaware's state capital, Wilmington, is north, within the Philadelphia broadcast area, Philadelphia stations do carry news of statewide interest to Delaware.
So, Biden asked, "The least I could conscientiously accept is a break-up of the hold on the many Delaware viewers who receive only the Baltimore perspective; that is, allowing a Philadelphia station to be carried by cable for the areas that do not now have the benefit - even if it means trading off one of the three Baltimore major network carriers."
But the Sussex committee went further. This week if asked for suspension of all regulations "respecting distant signal carriage for all present and future cable television systems in Sussex County, Delaware and the state of Delaware."
The case beasrs some similarity to a request from the state of New Jersey's cable office. New Jersey, overwhelmed by New York and Philadelphia network affilates, has also petitioned the FCC for suspension of regulations concerning cable operations.
In that still undecided case, a Justice Department comment supported New Jersey. One Justice source said yesterday that the department is likely to support the people of Sussex as well.
"The question is, just what people are being protected by the FCC?" the Justice Department official asked. The state legislature, the Sussex County Council, 4,049 residents who signed the petition submitted to the FCC, "and just about everyone else in the state is asking for this relief," says the official. "So why not? I can't find anybody in the state who won't benefit?"
In a letter responding to Biden, FCC Broadcast Bureau Chief Wallace Johnson said that one reason not to let the Philadelphia stations be carried on cable in southern Delaware is that the move could hurt one or more Baltimore stations, which are received on the air by some Sussex residents.
Johnson defines "local" stations as those whose signals are seen by a significant number or area viewers. He doesn't address the fact that Baltimore stations don't carry Delaware news, except to say that "any allegations of these stations" failure to offer such programming will be given consideration during the license renewal process."