Justia Summary

New York requires cable operators to set aside channels for public access. Those channels are operated by the cable operator unless the local government chooses to operate the channels or designates a private entity as the operator. New York City designated a private nonprofit corporation, MNN, to operate public access channels on Time Warner’s Manhattan cable system. Respondents produced a film critical of MNN. MNN televised the film. MNN later suspended Respondents from all MNN services and facilities. They sued, claiming that MNN violated their First Amendment free-speech rights. The Second Circuit partially reversed the dismissal of the suit, concluding that MNN was subject to First Amendment constraints.

The Supreme Court reversed in part and remanded. MNN is not a state actor subject to the First Amendment. A private entity may qualify as a state actor when the entity exercises “powers traditionally exclusively reserved to the State” but “very few” functions fall into that category. Operation of public access channels on a cable system has not traditionally and exclusively been performed by government. Providing some kind of forum for speech is not an activity that only governmental entities have traditionally performed and does not automatically transform a private entity into a state actor. The City’s designation of MNN as the operator is analogous to a government license, a government contract, or a government-granted monopoly, none of which converts a private entity into a state actor unless the private entity is performing a traditional, exclusive public function. Extensive regulation does not automatically convert a private entity’s action into that of the state. The City does not own, lease, or possess any property interest in the public access channels.

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