Acting FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel told a troubled senator that the FCC does not have the authority to get involved in the carriage dispute between a broadcaster and streaming service, in this case Disney's Hulu Plus Live TV (Hulu +) streaming service and Sinclair, over access to the latter's regional sports networks (RSNs).
That came in a letter responding to Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who asked the FCC to help facilitate a resolution of the dispute "promptly and impartially."
"Since October 2020, Hulu subscribers in Ohio have not had access to various RSNs, including Fox Sports Ohio and SportsTime Ohio, which were previously included in their Live TV plans," Brown pointed out in a letter to Rosenworcel. He argued that with the ongoing pandemic and closed sports venues, "it is more important now than ever that we foster community, hope, and social connection by offering Ohioans and communities across the country reliable access to local sporting events."
Last week, in a response the FCC released Thursday (Feb. 25), Rosenworcel had conceded that the dispute had "deprived hundreds of thousands" of Hulu subs, in Ohio and across the country (there are 21 RSNs) to local sports, and that she shared his interest in the parties continuing to negotiate in good faith, but that she was confined to hoping they can come to an agreement because the FCC's program carriage rules apply only to MVPDs. "The Commission does not have jurisdiction over carriage disputes involving non-MVPD over-the-top linear video providers like Hulu Plus Live TV," she told him.
The FCC under then chairman Tom Wheeler proposed classifying over-the-top providers as MVPDs for the purpose of rules like program access and carriage, but it did not go anywhere. There has been talk of reviving that effort now that streaming has become the major force, with broadcasters have started striking carriage deals with them, that it was not when Wheeler proposed the move most of a decade ago as a way to make streaming more competitive with traditional video distributors like cable and satellite.
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