FCC Proposes Changing MVPD Definition

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The Federal Communications Commission seeks to increase competition afforded to internet-based video programming services by updating the agency’s rules to better reflect the fact that video services are increasingly being provided over the Internet.

On Dec. 17 the FCC adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM)—Promoting Innovation and Competition in the Provision of Multichannel Video Programming Distribution Services—that will “modernize” the commission’s “interpretation of the term ‘multichannel video programming distributor’ (MVPD).”

The FCC says changing its interpretation of MVPD is necessary because “cable systems have made plain their intent to use a new transmission standard” that will enable cable providers “to deliver video via IP.”

In addition to cable providers, “other innovative companies are also experimenting with new business models based on internet distribution,” the FCC says. Those moves reflect recent technological advances that have changed how content is distributed, the agency says. Those advances include broadcast television’s move from analog transmission to digital, and telephone networks becoming broadband networks providing “a critical pathway to the internet.”

Therefore, the term MVPD needs to be updated to include multiple linear streams of video programming, regardless of the technology used to distribute the programming, the FCC says.

The transition to IP is enabling cable operators to move their video offerings away from their current infrastructure, and could encourage them to migrate their traditional service to internet delivery, the FCC says. Because of the likely move by cable providers to transmit content over IP, “it become important to interpret the statutory definition of MVPD to ensure that the commission’s rules apply sensibly in a way that encourages innovation,” the NPRM says.

In statement on the NPRM, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said digital technology has increased the opportunity for internet-based competition to cable and satellite services. “Yet efforts by new entrants to develop new video services have faltered because they could not get access to programming content that was owned by cable networks or broadcasters,” he says.

“Big company control over access to programming should not keep programs from being available on the internet,” Wheeler said. Therefore, the FCC’s proposed changes “begin a process to expand internet video competition with cable and satellite services” so that video providers who operate over the internet, or any other method of transmission, will have the same access to programming that cable and satellite operators have.

However, Commissioner Ajit Pai questioned if FCC regulation is needed and if such regulation could slow growth: “I have my doubts as to whether additional regulation in this space [online video] is necessary. Indeed, I fear that it could impede continued innovation. I am also worried that this proposal will pave the way for more comprehensive regulation of Internet-based services.”

Nonetheless, Pai concurred with the proposal because the commission needs to resolve the question of whether internet-based distributors of video programming can be MVPDs. That question has “been pending at the commission for over four years,” he added.

The FCC will accept comments on the NPRM once the proposed rule has been published on the Federal Register.

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