Internet Streamer VDC Targets C-SPAN

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A start-up Internet video-streaming company is considering filing a program-access complaint at the Federal Communications Commission in order to force C-SPAN to reach a distribution agreement.

VDC, based in Northbrook, Ill., is seeking to add C-SPAN’s three cable networks to its service, which launched in April and costs broadband Internet-access customers $11.95 per month for about 20 channels, including QVC and a few lesser-known cable brands.

Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, TLC, Travel Channel and BBC America are available only on smart phones and personal digital assistants. Some services, including the Pentagon Channel, ShopNBC and NASA TV, are free. VDC employs coding technology that blocks access to users outside of the United States.
VDC chief operating officer Scott Wolf said an FCC complaint was a likely necessary move because his company has been unable to conclude a carriage agreement with C-SPAN. But Peter Kiley, C-SPAN’s vice president of affiliate relations, said the two parties have been talking for months and he was unaware that the sides had “reached an impasse.”

VDC informed C-SPAN in an Aug. 8 letter of its intent to file an FCC complaint after 10 days and to seek financial damages. VDC’s C-SPAN complaint could the beginning of a major clash with cable, as Wolf said the company is considering similar FCC action against Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

If VDC -- which stands for Virtual Digital Cable -- files the C-SPAN complaint, a key question would be whether the company has standing as a multichannel-video programming distributor to do so.

Federal law defines an MVPD as “a person such as, but not limited to, a cable operator, a multichannel-multipoint-distribution service, a direct-broadcast satellite service, or a television receive-only satellite-program distributor, who makes available for purchase, by subscribers or customers, multiple channels of video programming.”

MVPDs are entitled to obtain access to satellite-delivered networks that are owned by cable operators. Congress created the rules in 1992 to ensure that satellite-TV providers, such as EchoStar Communications and DirecTV, could sell popular national cable networks.

“As legal matter, we don’t know” if VDC can rely on the program-access rules, Kiley said. Wolf said VDC was confident that it qualified.

C-SPAN streams three networks over the Internet live, and it has thousands of hours of recorded programming archived on its Web site (www.c-span.org). It does not charge for the content.

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