Press Release

FCC General Counsel Outlines Path to Improving Video Competition

October 17, 2014 , ,

Today, FCC General Counsel Jonathan Sallet gave a speech at the Duke Law Center for Innovation Policy Conference providing some details about the FCC's approach to video competition. The speech indicated that the FCC is considering recognizing that online video services can be “multichannel video programming distributors,” like cable and satellite TV, under the Communications Act.

The following statement can be attributed to John Bergmayer, Senior Staff Attorney at Public Knowledge:

“Today's speech from the FCC's General Counsel is the latest indication that the FCC might do something that is both bold, and common sense. It could further open up the video marketplace to new online providers, by recognizing that any service that offers subscription ‘channels’ of programming should have regulatory parity with other pay TV services.

“When satellite TV and other new video distribution methods became technologically and economically possible, Congress updated the law to make sure that new competitors with new technologies were able to compete for customers and to protect them from unfair discrimination by incumbents. It decided that any ‘multichannel video programming distributor’ (MVPD) should have fair access to programming, and that MVPDs should not be able to act anti-competitively toward each other. MVPDs are also eligible to carry local broadcast programming under the FCC's rules.

“Because of this law, satellite TV has become very successful, and when telephone companies like Verizon, CenturyLink, and AT&T began offering subscription TV services with new technology, no one questioned whether they should be able to compete on an equal footing.

“It's simply common sense — and in keeping with Congress's intent — for the FCC to recognize that online providers that offer streaming services that, from a consumer's perspective, work just like cable or satellite TV, should be given the same protections — and be subject to the same obligations.

“It's important to realize that this would not regulate existing services like Netflix. On-demand and free services would not be affected by the FCC's action. Rather, by recognizing that the category of ‘MVPD’ is technology-neutral, the FCC would make possible new kinds of services that offer traditional ‘channels’ of programming, but in a more convenient way. While details of copyright law would still need to be worked out, the FCC's action could create the opportunity for services like Aereo to meet customer demand while staying within the letter of the law.

“While it remains to be seen exactly how the FCC will proceed, today's speech should give TV viewers hope for more competition.”