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INTX 2015: Wheeler Favors Tech Neutral MVPD Definition

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler says he favors a technology-neutral definition of MVPD.

That came in a speech to the National Cable & Telecommunications Association's INTX 2015 convention in Chicago Wednesday (May 6). NCTA has said it doesn't think the FCC should, or can, take that tech-neutral approach.

The FCC is currently vetting comments on its proposal to define linear over-the-top providers as MVPDs, at least for the purposes of getting access to vertically integrated programming.

The chairman made the point to his INTX audience as part of a larger message that cable operators should not yield to "the temptation to use your predominant position in broadband to protect your traditional cable business" from over-the-top video disruptors.

"We will proceed to consider whether to adopt a technologically-neutral definition of a multichannel video program distributor and, to be candid, I favor a technology-neutral definition that includes Internet-based companies that choose business models that fit this status," he said.

Last December, the FCC voted unanimously (though Republicans only concurred) to tentatively conclude that it would define an OTT service that delivers a linear stream of programming as an MVPD. That means those services, which mimic cable services, would have access to content through the FCC's program access rules, but also have to negotiate retransmission consent with broadcasters. It would not apply to TV Everywhere, which is in essence an authentication regime for an online mirror of traditional service, in which access rules already appear. But it does ask questions about how it should treat TV Everywhere.

NCTA has argued that a transmission path is necessary to be an MVPD. It told the FCC in comments on Sky Angel that the 1992 Cable Act was clearly intended to promote "facilities-based MVPD competitors," which would require facilities.

To define it otherwise, they say, would result in "expansive regulation of the Internet" and conferring rights and obligations on online entities the FCC does not track or license, may not have physical facilities in the U.S. and which "were never intended to be the subjects of such regulations."

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.