No Rush to Judge Online Video

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Washington — The Senate Commerce Committee is not
poised to intervene in the online-video marketplace, despite
holding a high-profile hearing on the subject last week.

A committee source, speaking on background, told Multichannel
last week there were currently no plans for a
follow up to the April 24 hearing on over-the top video.

Industry players are not looking for Congress to rush in and
legislate in the online space, but that cuts both ways: There are
also no plans to bring cable and broadcast executives to the
committee to offer their opinions on the matter.


The issue is definitely on the
radar screen of legislators
and industry stakeholders,
as they made clear during
the hearing.

Legislators and witnesses
seemed to be on the same
page with regard to the need
to re-craft communications
regulations for a multiplatform
world, something for
which National Cable & Telecommunications
president Michael Powell has
long argued.

No clear answers emerged from the hearing as to what
type of regulatory treatment online video should receive.
Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) likened
the matter to asking “penetrating questions” about an
“impenetrable future.”

Issues at play include whether or not video will exacerbate
the digital divide and whether or not online distributors will
be subject to access, carriage and other conditions, such as
carrying public, educational and government (PEG) channels,
an issue the Federal Communications Commission is
currently weighing into via a request for comment.

The hearing was the beginning of a conversation, Rockefeller
said, but it was one that occasionally left ears burning.

One upside of online video could be to provide downward
pressure on cable prices, the chairman signaled. He
took some lengths to point out that those rates were going
up more steeply than the rate of inflation.

Cable operators, had they been invited, might have pointed
out that the per-channel price has actually gone down.

Rockefeller also wondered aloud why he had to pay for 500
channels when he only watched 10. “I don’t know,” he said,
adding that it did not give him a “warm, fuzzy feeling.”

He also said he hoped online video content would be better
than traditional video, arguing that too much TV programming
is crude and “a poor reflection of our society.”

The hearing provided a vehicle for some venting on the issue
of outmoded regulations — the need to revamp the 1996
Telecommunications Act — and for Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) to
push for scrapping the retransmission-consent and must-carry
regime, something cable operators
would be happy to see.

DeMint, likely to be either
ranking member or chairman
of the Commerce Committee
after the next election,
urged Rockefeller to hold a
hearing on his Next Generation
Television Marketplace
Act. That bill would deepsix
retransmission consent,
the compulsory license and
cable-ownership caps.

DeMint said the current
communications regulations
were written for a
time and marketplace that no longer exists.


That sentiment was shared by virtually all of the senators
and witnesses at the hearing. But there was no similar
agreement on just how the 1996 Telecommunications
Act should be modifi ed to reflect the advent of the ’net.

DeMint said the compulsory license and retransmission-
consent regimes are government interventions that
meddle in the marketplace and are in need of repeal.

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) asked Rockefeller to hold a
hearing on FCC reform, another topic of interest to cable
operators looking for some regulatory relief

The hearing, though, was ultimately more of a platform
for debate than a launch pad for action. There were no plans
to bring up DeMint’s bill or to hold a hearing on FCC reform,
the committee source said, though there would likely be an
FCC oversight hearing in due course.