Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network (C-SPAN /ˈsiːˌspæn/) is an American cable and satellite television network that was created in 1979 by the cable television industry as a nonprofit public service. It televises many proceedings of the United States federal government, as well as other public affairs programming. The C-SPAN network includes the television channels C-SPAN (focusing on the U.S. House of Representatives), C-SPAN2 (focusing on the U.S. Senate), and C-SPAN3 (airing other government hearings and related programming), the radio station WCSP-FM, and a group of websites which provide streaming media and archives of C-SPAN programs. C-SPAN's television channels are available to approximately 100 million cable and satellite households within the United States, while WCSP-FM is broadcast on FM radio in Washington, D.C. and is available throughout the U.S. on SiriusXM via Internet streaming, and globally through apps for iOS and Android devices.
The network televises U.S. political events, particularly live and "gavel-to-gavel" coverage of the U.S. Congress. C-SPAN also televises occasional proceedings of the Australian, British (including the weekly Prime Minister's Questions), and Canadian Parliaments, as well as other major events worldwide. Its coverage of political and policy events is unmoderated, providing the audience with unfiltered information about politics and government. Non-political coverage includes historical programming, programs dedicated to non-fiction books, and interview programs with noteworthy individuals associated with public policy. C-SPAN is a private, nonprofit organization funded by its cable and satellite affiliates, and it does not have advertisements on any of its networks, radio stations, or websites, nor does not solicit donations or pledges. The network operates independently, and neither the cable industry nor Congress has control of its programming content.
Brian Lamb, C-SPAN's chairman and former chief executive officer, conceived C-SPAN in 1975 while working as the Washington, D.C., bureau chief of the cable industry trade magazine Cablevision. It was a time of rapid growth in the number of cable television channels available in the United States. Lamb envisioned a cable-industry financed nonprofit network for televising sessions of the U.S. Congress, other public affairs events, and policy discussions. Lamb shared his idea with several cable executives, who helped him launch the network. Among them were Bob Rosencrans, who provided $25,000 of initial funding in 1979, and John D. Evans, who provided the wiring and access to the headend needed for the distribution of the C-SPAN signal. According to a report from commentator Jeff Greenfield on Nightline in 1980, C-SPAN was launched to provide televised coverage of U.S. political events in their entirety. The purpose was to help viewers maintain a thorough view of politics and especially presidential campaigns. This was unlike television newscasts, which "[do] not really inform us about what the candidates mean to do with the power they ask of us."
C-SPAN was launched on March 19, 1979, in time for the first televised session made available by the House of Representatives, beginning with a speech by then-Tennessee representative Al Gore. Upon its debut, only 3.5 million homes were wired for C-SPAN, and the network had just three employees. C-SPAN began full-time operations on September 14, 1982. After C-SPAN was created and began proceedings of the House of Representatives, the Senate wanted the same. After two years of discussion, Majority Leader Howard Baker introduced a resolution to allow cameras into the Senate, but it went nowhere. By 1986, Senator William L. Armstrong convinced his colleagues to allow cameras onto the Senate floor.
The second C-SPAN channel, C-SPAN2, followed on June 2, 1986 when the U.S. Senate permitted itself to be televised. It began full-time operations on January 5, 1987. C-SPAN3, the most recent expansion channel, began full-time operations on January 22, 2001, and shows live/taped public policy and government-related events on weekdays, with historical programming being shown on weeknights and weekends. It has also sometimes served as an overflow channel for live programming conflicts on C-SPAN and C-SPAN2. C-SPAN3 is the successor of a digital channel called C-SPAN Extra, which was launched in the Washington D.C. area in 1997, and televised live and recorded political events from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time Monday through Friday.
C-SPAN Radio began operations on October 9, 1997, covering similar events as the television networks and often simulcasting their programming. The station broadcasts on WCSP-FM (90.1 MHz) in Washington, D.C., is also available on XM Satellite Radio channel 120 and is streamed live at c-span.org. It was formerly available on Sirius Satellite Radio from 2002 to 2006.
Lamb semi-retired in March 2012, coinciding with the channel's 33rd anniversary, and gave executive control of the network to his two lieutenants, Rob Kennedy and Susan Swain.
On January 12, 2017, the online feed for C-SPAN1 was interrupted and replaced by a feed from the Russian television network RT America for approximately 10 minutes. C-SPAN announced that they were troubleshooting the incident and were "operating under the assumption that it was an internal routing issue."