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Editorial: Seeing the Light?

The FCC has historically dismissed broadcaster arguments that continuing to regulate them like it was still the 1970s makes no sense in a world of cable and satellite and online. But some signs indicate the FCC may finally be getting the message. We hope so.

In its latest video competition report request for input, the commission spends some time talking about the changes in the broadcast video competitive landscape.

Broadcasters have been talking about those changes for years in the hope the FCC would loosen some decades-old regulations, imposed in an era when broadcasters had a virtual lock on the viewing audience, cable was still trying to extend its signal over the mountains to a relative handful of outliers and digital broadcasting was only a gleam in Charlie Ergen’s eye.

In its request for comment, the FCC concedes that broadcast networks are looking beyond TV stations to over-the-top delivery of their programming, pointing to CBS’ expansion of CBS All Access from its owned TV markets to affiliate markets, for example.

The featured questions included this: “When networks offer their programming as OVDs [online video providers], how does this impact the financial well-being of affiliated stations that previously offered such programming to the public on an exclusive basis?”

It’s a good question. The answer should point the FCC toward giving stations more flexibility, not less, to try and match the growing reach and power of the Web and pay-TV providers.

“Have local broadcast stations adapted their business models and competitive strategies in ways that indicate that they view MVPDs and OVDs as competitors?” the FCC asks, as if there was some doubt.

Broadcasters should give the FCC an earful on just how much competition they are getting. And the FCC should listen—for once.