Tech Transitions, Video and the Future

The following is an edited excerpt from a blog post by Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler on the agency’s NPRM on over-the-top video providers.

Consumers have long complained about how their cable service forces them to buy channels they never watch. The move of video onto the Internet can do something about that frustration — but first, Internet-video services need access to the programs. Today, the FCC takes the first step to open access to cable programs as well as local television. The result should be to give consumers more alternatives from which to choose so they can buy the programs they want.

The mantra “Competition, Competition, Competition” fits perfectly with consumers’ desires for video choices. That’s why I’m asking my fellow commissioners to update video competition rules so our rules won’t act as a barrier to this kind of innovation. Specifically, I am asking the commission to start a rulemaking proceeding in which we would modernize our interpretation of the term “multichannel video programming distributor” (MVPD) so that it is technology-neutral. The result of this technical adjustment will be to give MVPDs that use the Internet (or any other method of transmission) the same access to programming owned by cable operators and the same ability to negotiate to carry broadcast TV stations that Congress gave to satellite systems in order to ensure competitive video markets.

The commission established in its January Tech Transitions Order that the best way to speed the adoption of new technologies is to assure consumers that enduring values will be protected, including competition. That applies to video as well as telecommunications. By making our rules technology neutral, we can encourage both new video providers and incumbent cable operators to take advantage of the benefits of IP transmission, boosting competition.

In Title VI of the Communications Act, Congress created rules to ensure that cable companies that own video content can’t raise artificial barriers to competition by refusing to let their video competitors have access to the programming they own. That worked for satellite providers, and also helped telephone companies entering the video business. I believe it makes just as much sense — and will have just as positive a consumer benefit — for an OTT.