NCTA to FCC: Be Careful How You Define MVPD

Suggests Virtual MVPDs Must Meet Social Obligations Imposed On Other MPVDs

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association is warning the FCC not to put a thumb on the scale for over-the-top (OTT) video in its effort to promote it as competition to traditional MVPDs.

In a statement responding to FCC Chairman Tom wheeler's circulation of a proposal to define linear OTT providers as MVPDs, at least as far as having access to programming is concerned, NCTA advised it to move cautiously.

“In today's video marketplace, consumers are reaping the benefits of robust competition and an ever expanding menu of video options," said NCTA. "Redefining what it means to be an MVPD raises profound questions about how government will extend regulation to Internet video services and how any would-be virtual MVPDs will meet their 'social compact' obligations."

The proposal asks, but does not answer, the question of which of those obligations should go along with that definition.

"With so many unknowns, the FCC should take great care in any such examination so as to avoid creating new problems that would result in unintended consequences and would fail to honor principles of competitive neutrality among rival providers," NCTA said.

The FCC proposal would essentially reverse a tentative, bureau-level conclusion in the Sky Angel program-access complaint that having a facilities-based transmission path--as do cable and satellite and telco--was necessary to be an MVPD. The FCC tentatively concluded that an MVPD has to have control of both the content and the transmission path—copper, fiber, satellite signals to be delivering a channel—and that an OVD distributor lacks that path since it does not control a facilities-based channel to deliver it.

Wheeler said Wednesday that the proposal was a way to make MVPD technology neutral for the Internet age. "We have passed from an era where it was necessary to build a purpose-specific pathway to deliver video," he wrote. "The innovation of Internet Protocol (IP) has freed video from these closed pathways and single-purpose devices.  The proposal put forth today will update FCC rules to recognize this new reality and, as a result, expand competition and consumer choice."