FCC May Give New Life to Aereo

By Kevin Eck 

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fcc logoFederal Communications Chairman Tom Wheeler says he wants to include internet video in the definition of a multichannel programming provider to “boost competition with cable and satellite services.”

In a blog post, Wheeler said he wants to “modernize” how the commission defines a multichannel video programming distributor by making it “technology neutral.” Doing so would give internet based providers “the same access to programming owned by cable operators and the same ability to negotiate to carry broadcast TV stations that Congress gave to satellite systems in order to ensure competitive video markets.”

Variety reports the move could breathe new life into Aereo:

Such a move also could give new life to Aereo, which has sought to be defined as a multichannel distributor following its defeat in the Supreme Court over its carriage of local TV stations over the Internet. A federal judge recently rejected Aereo’s latest effort to be defined like a cable service, but Wheeler noted in a blog post that the company had recently visited the FCC to make the point that updating the definition of a multichannel distributor would expand choice and “perhaps consumers will not be forced to pay for channels they never watch.” Nevertheless, Aereo would have to alter its economic model, as it would most likely not be able to obtain broadcast streaming rights for free.

Wheeler also noted that such a move is necessary as satellite companies like Dish prepare to launch online services, and Sony, Verizon and DirecTV mull over whether to offer their own. CBS and HBO have announced that they will start their own streaming services separate from cable subscriptions. The definition would apply only to services that offer pre-scheduled programming lineups, an FCC official said, meaning that it would not include on-demand video providers like Netflix.

Wheeler wrote that the definition “should turn on the services that a provider offers, not on how those services reach viewers. Twenty-first century consumers shouldn’t be shackled to rules that only recognize 20th century technology.”

He also said that opening up access to programming for Internet video services will spur competition for high-speed broadband, something that he has said is lacking. “Those seeking to deploy new competitive broadband networks tell us that it’s hard to provide new high-speed Internet access without also being able to offer a competitive video package as well,” he wrote.

Chet Kanojia, the founder of Aereo, praised Wheeler’s move, saying, “By clarifying these rules, the FCC is taking a real and meaningful step forward for competition in the video market. The FCC recognizes that when competition flourishes, consumers win.”

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