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FCC chief’s redefinition of cable could revive Aereo

Tom Wheeler

Tom Wheeler

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has proposed redefining the concept of a multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) – currently restricted to established pay TV and cable operators – in a way that is platform-neutral, opening the US channel distribution market up to OTT providers.

“The mantra “Competition, Competition, Competition” fits perfectly with consumers’ desires for video choices.  That’s why I’m asking my fellow Commissioners to update video competition rules so our rules won’t act as a barrier to this kind of innovation.  Specifically, I am asking the Commission to start a rulemaking proceeding in which we would modernise our interpretation of the term ‘multichannel video programming distributor’ (MVPD) so that it is technology-neutral,” said Wheeler in a blog posting.

“The result of this technical adjustment will be to give MVPDs that use the internet (or any other method of transmission) the same access to programming owned by cable operators and the same ability to negotiate to carry broadcast TV stations that Congress gave to satellite systems in order to ensure competitive video markets.”
Wheeler said there was no reason why the rules in place that force cable operators to make content they own available to satellite and IPTV providers should not be extended to OTT services.

US coverage of Wheeler’s proposal has focused on the possibility that it could enable the resurrection of defunct service Aereo. The latter ceased operating after the Supreme Court ruled that it was rebroadcasting channels illegally, and then tried to have itself redefined as a cable TV service, which would have obliged broadcasters to license their channels to it. That route was closed down after a Federal judge’s decision that Aereo was not a cable-like service under existing rules.

Wheeler specifically cited Aereo in his posting, arguing that OTT providers, given access to channels, would be able to create smaller more specialised packages and offer an alternative the big basic bundles provided by cable providers.

“Taking advantage of this rule, new OTTs may offer smaller or specialized packages of video programming, so consumers will be able to mix-and-match to suit their tastes.  Aereo recently visited the Commission to make exactly this point – that updating the definition of an MVPD will provide consumers with new choices.  And perhaps consumers will not be forced to pay for channels they never watch,” said Wheeler.

Tags: Aereo, FCC, US