Diller Tells Senators to Rewrite Communications Laws

Hearing touches on several Internet issues

Today's Senate Commerce hearing on the future of online video should have been called The Barry Diller Show. The former broadcast exec-turned-Internet mogul dominated the hearing over the future of online video and what lawmakers should do to ensure its continuing growth.

The hearing was called by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) to explore how online video can be nurtured to provide consumers with better content and lower rates—but Diller quickly steered it into an indictment of the current communications laws, which were written before the Internet began to change the video and TV businesses. The hearing also brought to the forefront a number of other issues, from net neutrality to current cable and broadcast distribution rules.

“The rules need to reflect there is a positive, potential competitor to what has become a closed system of program content makers dominated by a few companies—less than a handful," Diller said.

The Democratic-controlled committee piled on Diller’s call for a re-do.

"The lines [between TV, cable and the Internet] are blurred. It's unclear where a lot of jurisdiction begins and where it ends," agreed Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). "We were behind the curve six months of the 1996 [Telecommunications] bill being signed," he added.

Both Diller and Paul Misener, vp of global public policy for Amazon.com, made repeated calls for net neutrality to ensure that there are no barriers to entry on the Internet or distribution intermediaries.

“So long as networks remain open to consumer choice, consumers will decide," Misener said.

But don’t hold your breath for any legislative action to reform the nation’s communications statutes during this Congress, said chairman Rockefeller to reporters following the hearing.

“When we rewrite acts, it’s not a simple business,” Rockefeller said. “What they’re talking about is the whole idea of [data] caps which becomes in some ways inevitable if you’re streaming. That raises a lot of questions we’re not able to legislatively answer at this point. The question is when is the best time to do it. It will require legislation, but nothing for this Congress.”