Who says that the Internet is not regulated? Whether to treat Internet video providers by the same rules that apply to cable and direct broadcast satellite systems is the subject of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released by the FCC just before Christmas, notice of which was published in the Federal Register today, setting the comment dates on the proposal. Comments are due by February 17, and replies by March 2. This proceeding could have a substantial impact on Internet video providers – potentially extending FCC jurisdiction to a whole host of services not currently subject to its rules, and potentially subjecting Internet video services to all sorts of rules that apply to traditional MVPDs (multichannel video programming distributors), including the FCC’s EEO rules, captioning rules and CALM Act compliance. Even the political broadcasting rules, which the FCC notes in the NPRM only specifically apply to cable and direct broadcast satellite rather than to MVPDs generally, could potentially be looked at in the future for these services should they come under FCC jurisdiction. At the same time, the rules could also have an impact on program suppliers and broadcast networks, as various rules dealing with access to cable and broadcast programming could extend to Internet video providers, potentially conflicting with existing contractual obligations and even the Copyright Act. What are some of the specific issues being considered?
The issues raised in the Notice are many – including the very fundamental one as to whether the FCC even has the authority to include Internet delivered video (what the FCC refers to as Over the Top or OTT providers) under the rules for MVPDs. While the general definition of MVPD would seem to cover Internet video (as it covers anyone who makes multiple channels of video programming available for purchase by subscribers), it is not that simple. As with any Federal law, one can’t just stop the analysis with a quick read of the statute. The statute, in at least one place, defines a “channel” as a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum capable of delivering a TV channel. And the FCC has defined a TV channel as one comparable to what is delivered by broadcast TV. It’s that reference to “electromagnetic spectrum” that has tripped up previous services seeking an expansion of the MVPD definition. In the case of Internet-delivered service called Sky Angel, the FCC staff 5 years ago determined that, as it was not a facilities based system – it did not control that electromagnetic spectrum on which its programming was delivered – it could not be an MVPD. The full Commission sought comments on the staff decision then (see our article on that request for comments on Sky Angel here and here,) and, with the recent Aereo decision (see our articles here and here) and its aftermath, and the seemingly daily announcement of new online video service offerings from everyone from CBS to HBO to Dish and Disney, the FCC seems now ready to move with this expansion of its authority to cover video on the Internet. Because of the potential for very similar video services to have very different regulatory burdens (cable and satellite could be subject to all the FCC MVPD rules, while the same programming, delivered by an Internet service, might have none of those obligations under the current regulatory interpretations), the majority of the FCC want to move forward with this proposal. But it asks for comments on whether it really has the authority to do so.
Continue Reading FCC Regulation of Internet Video? – Dates Set for Comments on Treating Over-the-Top Video Providers like Cable and Satellite TV