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Wheeler: No Rush to Redefine OTT

WASHINGTON — Cable operators got some good news out of the Federal Communications Commission, thanks to the probing in a House Communications Committee oversight hearing.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler sent a clear signal during that Nov. 17 hearing that his proposal to reclassify some over-the-top video providers as multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) was not going anywhere in the near term — or the far future, for that matter — unless circumstances change.

Wheeler last fall proposed redefining linear over-the-top providers (with lineups of scheduled linear channels similar to those of traditional cable and satellite providers) as MVPDs as a means to ensure access to programming. But his idea has been getting pushback from some online video distributors, cable operators and even some Democrats in Congress.

He also sent a less clear signal, but a signal nonetheless, that the notion of getting rid of the broadcast exclusivity rules — cable operators would be OK with that — could survive as part of the FCC’s review of retransmission-consent rules, after Wheeler’s separate order to kill those rules appeared dead in the water.

Finally, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association found supporters on both sides of the aisle in its opposition to an AllVid navigation-device approach to a downloadable software successor to the CableCard.

The NCTA has argued that there is no public-policy rationale for redefining what constitutes an MVPD, and even if there was, such a move would be constitutionally suspect. But that likely did not hold as much sway with Wheeler as the arguments by online video providers, such as online retail giant Amazon, that the change was unnecessary, and that online video innovation and competition was “vibrant and growing.”

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) pressed Wheeler during the hearing on what the lawmaker called potentially onerous regulations on new technologies like streaming video. Wheeler had a ready answer, which was that while he had started a rulemaking on the issue, “the purpose of rulemakings is to learn.” He said he learned that “there are a vast number of things that are developing very rapidly, and we have not moved forward on that notice of proposed rulemaking and I don’t see, unless the situation changed, that we would.” (Wheeler not too long ago had suggested there would be a vote by fall on that rulemaking.)

Whether it was the arguments of the NCTA or if edge providers, score one for cable.

Also at the hearing, Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.) said he was concerned about axing the exclusivity rules before the Government Accountability Office released an impact study. He said such a move might be premature. Wheeler has already voted to eliminate the broadcast exclusivity rules in an order circulated in August that did not get traction with the other commissioners.

The appropriate place to address exclusivity, Wheeler said, would be in the inquiry into “good faith” retransmission-consent negotiations that the FCC is conducting at Congress’s behest.

That means the other commissioners probably won’t vote on the separate order eliminating the rules, but they could still be axed as part of a retrans remake.

Herring Qualifies Support for Charter-TWC

WASHINGTON — An independent programmer endorsing a big cable merger definite boost, so Herring Networks’s support of the Charter-Time Warner Cable deal in a Federal Communications Commission filing was good news for the merging parties.

But Herring (parent of AWE and One America News Network) is now having second thoughts, tied to the hot-button issue of over-the-top distribution.

In a Sept. 16 filing, the company said Charter had dealt fairly with independent networks, saying it was in regular conversation with almost all other independent networks and had “not heard of any formal or informal complaints” against Charter.

Fast forward to this month and it said it had a host of issues and that “based on its recent dealings with Charter.” It cited Charter’s “fundamental lack of respect for independent programmers.”

The Comcast-TWC merger would need conditions to protect independent networks, Herring said, and fans of indie networks peppered the FCC with compaints.

“Charter is committed to ensuring its customers have access to independent and diverse programming,” the Stamford, Conn.-based MSO said in response.

— John Eggerton