In comments that address the most recent House Energy and Commerce Committee white paper on efforts to update the 1934 Communications Act, carriers that offer facilities-based video service to customers are urging Congress to reform the current system of broadcast retransmission consent and to end regulatory distinctions between online video distributors (OVDs) and traditional multichannel video program distributors (MVPDs).
Comments were submitted last Friday in response to last month’s white paper, which solicits input on the regulation of the U.S. video content and distribution markets. Over the past year, the Energy and Commerce Committee has requested and received comment on five other papers that deal with topics such as universal service, spectrum allocation, network interconnection, and competition.
Spotlighting the issue of program blackouts that sometimes occur when broadcasters and MVPDs are unable to agree on retransmission terms, CenturyLink asked lawmakers to provide MVPDs with “the right to carry national programming from an adjacent or alternate market or source during a broadcast retransmission negotiation breakdown.” By amending the law in this fashion, CenturyLink claimed that “the balance of negotiating power between broadcasters and MVPDs could be at least partially restored” while “consumers would be protected from blackouts.”
On behalf of its members, the Independent Telephone & Telecommunications Alliance (ITTA) endorsed “local choice” legislation, circulated last year by the leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee, that would eliminate the broadcast retransmission consent regime by allowing broadcasters to set a per-subscriber price for their channels. That price would be passed directly to customers who would select and pay for the channels they want. As it advocated for “relief from coercive and anticompetitive practices by video programmers, such as wholesale tying,” ITTA also urged Congress to “repeal the network non-duplication and syndicated exclusivity rules and allow MVPDs to import broadcast programming from out-of-market stations.”
The Free State Foundation (FSF), meanwhile, recommended elimination of regulatory distinctions between MVPDs and OVDs. Arguing, “replacement of the legacy video services regime should be part and parcel of a new Digital Age Communications Act,” FSF called for “a single, unified framework for digital services” that “furthers the goals of policy simplicity and harmony” and that “should rely on the same fundamental principles applicable to other digital services.”