The FCC May Redefine ‘Television’ to Include the Internet

The proposal could create new competition to cable providers like Comcast.

Aereo allows subscribers to watch local TV channels on their tablets, phones, and computers. 
National Journal
Sept. 29, 2014, 2:48 p.m.

The Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion is con­sid­er­ing wheth­er to treat cer­tain on­line video ser­vices the same way it treats cable and satel­lite TV pro­viders.

The move would help the on­line ser­vices get ac­cess to pop­u­lar pro­gram­ming and could al­low them to be­come stronger com­pet­it­ors to the dom­in­ant pay-TV pro­viders like Com­cast.

“This is a very big deal,” said Richard Green­field, an in­dustry ana­lyst for BTIG. “It could pose very sig­ni­fic­ant chal­lenges to the tra­di­tion­al [cable TV] bundle.”

The FCC’s Me­dia Bur­eau is work­ing on the pro­pos­al, which could be shared more broadly with­in the com­mis­sion as early as this week, ac­cord­ing to an FCC of­fi­cial.

Kim Hart, an FCC spokes­man, de­clined to com­ment.

The pro­pos­al would ap­ply only to on­line ser­vices that of­fer streams of pres­ched­uled pro­gram­ming. So the rules wouldn’t cov­er Net­flix, which al­lows sub­scribers to watch videos whenev­er they want.

But it could re­vive the con­tro­ver­sial on­line video ser­vice Aereo, which al­lowed sub­scribers to watch broad­cast TV chan­nels on their com­puters and In­ter­net-con­nec­ted TVs. The Su­preme Court ruled earli­er this year that Aereo was steal­ing the broad­casters’ copy­righted con­tent.

In re­sponse, Aereo asked to be re­clas­si­fied as a cable pro­vider. The move wouldn’t give it free ac­cess to broad­cast pro­gram­ming, but it would force the broad­casters to ne­go­ti­ate fol­low­ing cer­tain rules and would likely mean cheap­er ac­cess to their chan­nels.

“Aereo is back,” Green­field said.

Clas­si­fy­ing the on­line ser­vices as cable pro­viders would bring a vari­ety of reg­u­lat­ory perks, but it would also carry some bur­dens—such as re­quire­ments to provide cer­tain sta­tions and of­fer closed cap­tion­ing.

The pro­pos­al is only an ini­tial step. So even if the com­mis­sion ap­proves it, the agency will then have to seek pub­lic com­ment be­fore mak­ing any fi­nal de­cisions.

Mul­tichan­nel News first re­por­ted on the pro­pos­al Monday.

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