Rockefeller Looks to Move the Ball Forward on Video Reform

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Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Rockefeller’s bill takes an ambitious approach toward the video marketplace of the future.


Tuesday, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (S-WV) introduced the Consumer Choice in Online Video Act, which seeks to address the anticompetitive and anti-consumer forces at work in today’s video marketplace. This bill would prevent cable providers from engaging in discriminatory measures against online video operators and would ensure that online video providers can access valuable programming. As we’ve said numerous times before, the current state of the video marketplace is outdated and in need of reform.You’ve got incumbent distributors, broadcasters, cable providers, network affiliates, with relationships locked into place and codified in US law.  This arrangement benefits the incumbents but does nothing for innovation, competition, or consumer choice.Tech companies tease the marketplace with hints of new video devices on the horizon but time and again consumers are left empty-handed and wanting. Technology isn’t what’s holding back the marketplace, the outdated video policies are.

Senator Rockefeller’s bill is a strong move in the right direction.The Consumer Choice in Online Video Act would:

-Bar cable, satellite, broadcast, and large media companies from engaging in anti-competitive practices against online video distributors

- Provide online video distributors with reasonable access to video programming and facilitate their ability to offer more consumer choice in programming and services

-Limit the ability of broadband providers to degrade competitive online video services, which maintains online video providers’ pipeline to consumers

-Empower consumers with new truth-in-billing protections for broadband Internet service

We like that the Rockefeller bill addresses both the access to content issues and access to the pipe issues. The bill eliminates some of the artificial distinctions in the law that currently exist.  For example, currently, cable companies can’t act anti-competitively toward other cable companies and lock them out of programming but they can do so toward online video providers.  This bill would eliminate that discrimination.  Additionally, the bill provides a path for an online video provider to become an online MVPD (online cable system). In short, the bill seeks to make it so online video providers can access content on the same terms as video incumbents.That’s huge.

When we testified before the Senate Commerce Committee back in May of this year we said that there were three ways the Senate and other policymakers achieve the “ambitious goals” of reforming the video marketplace.  First, they can clear away or update some of the outdated rules that slow down the evolution of the video marketplace.  Second, they can extend the successful policies that protect smaller video competitors; if a large cable system would be prohibited by law from acting anti-competitively toward a satellite provider then it shouldn’t be able to take the same actions against an online video provider.  Third, they can protect Internet openness and prevent discriminatory billing practices that restrict online video.  This includes supporting the FCC’s Open Internet Rules and examine whether or not data caps hold back online video.

The Rockefeller bill addresses all three of the major policy suggestions we proposed earlier this year and we’re pleased to see a comprehensive approach to video reform.  Consumers and lawmakers are frustrated with the sluggish state of the video marketplace these days.  Hopefully this legislation will get the ball rolling for lawmakers in both houses of Congress to tackle this complex issue. PK looks forward to continuing to work with policymakers on moving closer to a more innovative, competitive, and consumer-friendly video marketplace.

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