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Rockefeller Bill Aims to Stop Online Video Favoritism by ISPs

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The head of the Senate committee that oversees communications and interstate commerce has introduced a bill that seeks to prevent internet service providers from blocking the online transmission of video content produced by video programming producers.

On Nov. 12, Committee on Commerce Science and Transportation Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) introduced the proposed Consumer Choice in Online Video Act (S.1680) that seeks to make it unlawful “for a designated internet service provider to engage in unfair methods or competition or unfair or deceptive acts or practices, the purpose or effect of which are to hinder significantly or to prevent an online video distributor from providing video programming to a consumer.”

The bill says that in researching the issue, Congress has found some traditional multi-channel video programming distributors that have “admitted to taking steps to limit the ability of online video distributors to access content or otherwise effectively compete in the video distribution marketplace.”

To halt those practices, the bill directs the Federal Communications Commission take a lead role in enforcing the bill’s provisions. Within a year of the adoption of the Consumer Choice in Online Video Act, the FCC is to produce regulations that govern the conduct of internet service providers and ensure those providers do not:

  • Block degrade, or otherwise impair any content provided by an online video distributor.
  • Unreasonably discriminate in transmitting the content of an unaffiliated online video distributor over the designated internet service provider’s network.
  • Provide benefits in the transmission of the video content of any company affiliated with the internet service provider through specialized services or other means, or otherwise leverage its ownership of the physical delivery architecture to benefit that affiliated company in a way that has the effect of harming competition from an unaffiliated online video distributor.
  • Use billing systems, such as usage-based billing, in a way that deters competition from unaffiliated online video distributors that may be in competition with the internet service provider’s, or its affiliate’s services.

The bill says those actions are necessary because while consumer demand and improved technology has the potential to increase the choices for video programming, lower prices and increase innovative services, multi-channel video programming distributors that are affiliated with internet service providers have an incentive and the ability to “degrade the delivery of, or block entirely, traffic from the websites of other online video distributors.”

In addition, video programming distributors can “speed up or favor access to the content and aggregation websites of their affiliates because online video distributors pose a threat to those affiliates’ video programming distribution business.”

The FCC did not return requests for comment by press time.

However, the American Cable Association issued a statement praising Rockefeller’s bill. The statement says the “ACA shares the chairman’s (Rockefeller’s) concerns, as reflected in his bill, about the ease with which certain existing players in the market can use their market power to harm consumers and impede competition. This is a significant concern for small cable operators and reflects the need to consider a new approach,”

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