As technology changes, the definitions in the FCC rules don't always keep up. In a public notice released last Friday, the FCC asked for public comment on what its definition of an "MVPD" - Multichannel Video Programming Distributor - means for purposes of its program access rules. These rules limit exclusive contracts for certain programming that one would normally think of as network cable programming, in order to make that programming available to competing distribution technologies (see this discussion of the application of these rules). Traditionally, these rules (set out in Section 76.1000-76.1004 of the FCC's Rules) have been thought to require access to this programming by cable, satellite and other companies with their own distribution facilities (i.e. their own wires or spectrum licenses). Now, with so much video being delivered over the Internet, companies have begun to offer cable-like services by IP-based delivery mechanisms, and they want access to that programming. Because of these demands for program access, the FCC has asked for these comments.
The proceeding is summarized more thoroughly in our firms Advisory, available here. As set out in the advisory, the issues on which the FCC is asking for comment could have broader implications should these IP-based systems be deemed to be MVPDs. For television broadcasters, such a definitional change could signal the need to reexamine the rules regarding the carriage of local television stations, including whether the must-carry and retransmission consent scheme would have to be grafted onto these Internet-delivered services, a requirement that has thus far been rejected by courts and the FCC. A reexamination of these definitions, should it occur, could have broad implications. Comments are due on this matter on April 30, with replies due on May 30.