Rockefeller to Introduce Bill to Give Online Video Parity With Cable and Satellite Providers

Rockefeller to Introduce Bill to Bolster

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, is introducing legislation to bolster the online video market, what he says is an effort to prevent cable and satellite companies from using their power to limit the growth of services like Netflix and Amazon.

The Consumer Choice in Online Video Act, which Rockefeller intends to introduce on Tuesday afternoon, would bar cable, satellite and large media companies from engaging in “anti-competitive” practices against online video distributors. It would do so in part by putting “reasonable limits” on contractual provisions in carriage contracts that limit online providers’ access to programming.

An aide to Rockefeller said that the legislation would allow online video providers to choose to be considered like cable and satellite providers, giving them a “pathway to negotiate for content” the way that cable and satellite providers do. The 1992 Cable Act included regulations designed to prevent companies from limiting access to channels as a way to stifle competition. If an online service chooses to be treated like a cable or satellite provider, it also would face certain retransmission consent and must carry regulations over the carriage of broadcast signals.

The legislation also would limit the ability of a cable or satellite company that also provides Internet service to “degrade” competitive online video services. Specifics of the legislation have yet to be released.

A big concern among consumer groups has been that cable and satellite companies will try to stifle competition by implementing more restrictive pricing for their Internet customers based on their usage. Although the legislation would not prevent cable and satellite companies from offering usage-based pricing for their Internet service, the legislation is intended to make billing clearer and more understandable. It also would direct the FCC to “monitor broadband billing practices to make sure they are not used anticompetitively.”

Rockefeller’s proposed legislation also does not directly address the legality of Aereo, the online provider of broadcast signals that broadcasters are challenging in court. If courts deem that the service is legal, “then this would clarify then that they would not be subject to retransmission consent payments,” an aide to Rockefeller said.

In May, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) introduced legislation designed to end some of the cable and satellite bundling of channels, a primary complaint of consumers facing hefty bills, but his legislation has yet to advance. Rockefeller has the advantage of sitting on a powerful Senate committee, even if his proposals are likely to stir up contentious debate with the cable and satellite industry.

“We have all heard the familiar complaint that we have five hundred channels, but there is nothing to watch,” Rockefeller said in a statement. “My legislation aims to enable the ultimate ala carte — to give consumers the ability to watch the programming they want to watch, when they want to watch it, how they want to watch it, and pay for only what they actually watch.”

Update: The National Cable and Telecommunications Assn. issued a statement in which it noted that online video services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime have flourished “facilitated in large part by massive ongoing investments in broadband networks.

“In a world marked by such dynamism and robust competition, prudent policy dictates the removal of regulatory obstacles for all instead of creating marketplace disparities that would ‘cherry pick’ rights and obligations for some,” the org said.

The National Assn. of Broadcasters expressed concern that the legislation would “legitimize” services like Aereo.  “Copyright theft poses a very real threat to the revenue stream that supports local television and the U.S. network-affiliate relationship that is the envy of the world,” the org said.

John Bergmayer, senior staff attorney at the public interest org Public Knowledge, said that the legislation “is the ambitious approach we need to ensure that the benefits of online competition come to the video marketplace. It will ensure that online video providers have access to the content they need to offer a service and the home broadband connections they need to deliver it. It would bring fairness, transparency, choice, and competition to online video.”

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  1. Anything that loosens the stranglehold cable companies have on us is a great idea. Hard to believe they’re still allowed to have monopolies in this day and age.

  2. Mike Land says:

    Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Redbox are my content providers. Its because I can have al a cart choices. I left umbilical services because they force me to subsidize Al Jazeer TV and Telemundo. I would consider going back to Dish or DTV if I could pick my customized package of Sifi, Discovery, TLC, Nick, Turner, etc and leave out the chaff.

  3. Donna Dias says:

    I have dish Satellite and so many channels are the same it is unbelievable when you get there service they make it sound like you are getting a lot of channels but you are Not
    because so many of them are the same and there are a lot of music channels we are not getting channel 10 which is NBC a local channel because they are fighting over the price they have to pay for that channel. Before they changed to digital you could watch them the convertagel boxes they told people to buy are terrible to use you have buy an antenna and keep moving it until you can get the channel you want to watch and then it will stop working and then you have to start moving it around again to get the channel back and you miss part of the show you are trying to watch this is wrong that they changed the way to watch TV not everyone can afford to pay a Cabel bill or a satellite bill they are making things harder for people to watch TV yet we are the ones that help them make their money by watching their shows and they can keep raising the price just to watch TV some body should realize that many of us are not working because there are no jobs or they are making minimum wage and their are many people that are on fixed incomes and cannot afford to pay cable bills or satellite bills we have to put a stop on how much they can keep raising their prices also need to find a better way for families to be able to watch TV because their converts boxes are terrible you should not have to put your TV on so much earlier to try and get the antenna in the best spot and then you loose the channel and miss part of the show you was watching or you cannot get it back

  4. Donna Dias says:

    I have dish Satellite and so many channels are the same it is unbelievable when you get there service they make it sound like you are getting a lot of channels but you are Not
    because so many of them are the same and there are a lot of music channels we are not getting channel 10 which is NBC a local channel because they are fighting over the price they have to pay for that channel. Before they changed to digital you could watch them the convertagel boxes they told people to buy are terrible to use you have buy an antenna and keep moving it until you can get the channel you want to watch and then it will stop working and then you have to start moving it around again to get the channel back and you miss part of the show you are trying to watch this is wrong that they changed the way to watch TV not everyone can afford to pay a Cabel bill or a satellite bill they are making things harder for people to watch TV yet we are the ones that help them make their money by watching their shows and they can keep raising the price just to watch TV some body should realize that many of us are not working because there are no jobs or they are making minimum wage and their are many people that are on fixed incomes and cannot afford to pay cable bills or satellite bills we have to put a stop on how much they can keep raising their prices also need to find a better way for families to be able to watch TV because their converts boxes are terrible you should not have to put your TV on so much earlier to try and get the antenna in the best spot and then you loose the chanm

  5. Contessa46 says:

    It would be great! Cable companies have too strong a hold on the market.

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