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Maryland Officials Ask FCC to Clarify OTT Point

A group of Maryland county cable regulatory officials met this week with the legal advisors to all the FCC commissioners and the chief of the Media Bureau to argue that cable operators can't have it both ways when it comes to redefining over-the-top video, and that the FCC should "subject" (their term) OTTs to the same regulatory and statutory obligations as MVPDs.

The FCC has proposed to apply carriage and access obligations to linear OTTs but has asked whether other obligations—PEG and leased access, for example, should also apply.

According to a copy of an ex parte filing, the county officials were there to put their personal exclamation points on three issues: First, they wanted the FCC to know they thought it had plenty of authority to define OTT providers of linear service as MVPDs, and that it could lead to increased competition and choice, so long as they were subject to all the same rights and responsibilities.

Where they parted company with the FCC was its tentative conclusions that while IP-based service from a cable provider within its footprint must be regulated as a cable service (cable operators are migrating delivery of their traditional cable service to IP), a cable operator's provision of an OTT service over the Internet should not be.

The FCC is not saying that if cable operators offer a separate over-the-top service that meets the new linear OTT definition they should not be subject to the new OTT redefinition in that instance and whatever obligations and rights redound, only that an OTT service should not de facto be regulated as a cable service because a cable operator is delivering it.

The officials say the distinction definitely needs clarifying.

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.