FCC Moves Toward Ala Carte Over The Internet

Tom Wheeler - P 2014
AP Images/Invision

 Tom Wheeler - P 2014

In a proposed rule making, cable channels would have to be available online as well as on cable and satellite

The definition of a Multi-Channel Video Provider (MPVD) would expand beyond cable and satellite systems to encompass Internet-based services including over the top providers under new rules proposed Friday by the Federal Communications Commission.

This would mean that online video services that offer linear streams of programming would be able to carry cable channels and other types of programming that until now have been the domain of cable and satellite TV services.

In a blog post, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler suggested this was a way to achieve ala carte distribution of channels which currently are only available when bundled by cable and satellite providers. Wheeler has been telegraphing his plan to take this action since October.

“Consumers have long complained about how their cable service forces them to buy channels they never watch,” writes Wheeler. “The move of video onto the Internet can do something about that frustration – but first Internet video services need access to the programs. Today the FCC takes the first step to open access to cable programs as well as local television. The result should give consumers more alternatives from which to choose so they can buy the programs they want.”

In a press release, the FCC billed its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking as a way to “modernize [the] MVPD definition.”

“This consumer focused approach,” said the FCC in its announcement, “would ensure that incumbent providers will continue to be subject to the pro-competitive regulations that apply to MVPDs as they transition their services to Internet Protocol delivery [sending channels over the Internet one at a time]. It would also ensure that nascent, web=based video programming services will have access to content they need to compete with established providers.”

The Writer’s Guild of America came out in favor of the proposal: “A technology-neutral MVPD definition inclusive of Internet-based services that do not own the distribution path to consumers is of critical importance. This would expand the market beyond those few companies with wired connections to the home and encourage the development of new businesses that will enhance competition, innovation, and choice.”

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the trade group for the cable operators, issued a statement that does not take a clear stand on the proposal:   “While we do not believe that the notice's tentative conclusion can be squared with the plain language of the definition for a multichannel video distribution provider, we appreciate the efforts of commissioners to identify many of the difficult policy issues that such a conclusion would raise.  We look forward to participating in this proceeding to ensure that any rules deemed necessary in today’s competitive video distribution marketplace are fairly applied to all.”

Comments on the proposal are due to the FCC sometime in the first two months of 2015. There will then be hearings and a discussion before the five member commission votes on whether or not to approve the proposal.