FCC 'Kicking Around' Idea of Making Some OVDs MVPDs

But Wheeler Reiterates He Is Not Yet 'Planting Flag' On Issue
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FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was asked Tuesday to comment on the story, first reported in B&C/Multichannel News online, that the a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was in the works that would classify linear over-the-top video providers as Multichannel Video Programming Distributors (MVPDs), subject to access to programming as well as the retrans payment regime.

At a press conference following the FCC's September public meeting, Wheeler was asked to elaborate on the thinking that went into the "proposal going around," and suggested that characterization was a bit of an overstatement. "You guys are good," he said, "and somebody found out that it was an idea that was being kicked around, rather than going around, and that's where it stands."

He also referred to an interview with B&C/Multichannel News earlier this week, where he said he was not ready to plant the flag on the issue, saying he stood by that statement.

Wheeler said the FCC considers "a whole heck of a lot of ideas floating around here. You always want to make sure you are keeping up with technology and innovation in the marketplace," and that the "kicking around" of OVDs (online video distributors) as MVPDs fell into that category.

Still, B&C/Multichannel News sources confirmed an NPRM was in the works and could have been, or could be, circulated to the other commissioners in the next few days or weeks.

Among the other takeaways from the press conference:

Wheeler did not add his voice to those criticizing the tone of Comcast's response to Time Warner Cable deal critics in the FCC's docket--Comcast called some public interest groups "Chicken Littles" and some programmer critics "extortionists."

"I think that we have in that docket lots of people expressing lots of strongly held positions, and they certainly fit in that category," he said. "I think everybody gets to express their positions strongly. I've been known myself to once in a while engage in a little hyperbole."

The Chairman was asked to respond to comments made by Federal Trade Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen that she was concerned that if the FCC reclassified Internet access under Title II, it would prevent the FTC from bringing actions against broadband providers. Wheeler said the FCC had a great relationship with the FCC, but that the FCC would proceed "on the basis of what is the best way for use to assure that there is an open and vibrant Internet, and that will be the basis on which we will make the decision."

Asked if he was working on a compromise on net neutrality, Wheeler said the FCC was looking at a number of things among the over 3.7 million comments.

Wheeler was asked why the FCC did or did not have the authority to sanction broadcasters for using the name for the Washington football team (the questioner did not use the name). Wheeler thanked him (Politico's Brooks Boliek) for his phrasing of the question, and said that since the FCC had been petitioned on the subject, it would be looking at the petition, dealing with it on its merits, and responding accordingly.

As first reported in B&C/Multichannel News, legal activist John Banzhaf has petitioned the FCC to deny the license renewal of a radio station owned by Redskins owner Dan Snyder.

Wheeler earlier in the press conference was asked about his interview with B&C/Multichannel News where he said he thought the name was offensive and ought to go. The questioner pointed out that there were other Indian-related names, like the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Braves, and whether he thought Redskins (the questioner did use the name) was particularly offensive. He said that he had been asked specifically about the Washington team. "I believe in my response I said I believe things change over time. I am a history buff and there are a lot of names and descriptions that were used over time that are inappropriate. And I think the name attributed to the Washington football club is one of them."

Wheeler would not elaborate on comments made at the CTIA convention that suggested the FCC could extend wired net neutrality to wireless rules. Also in the no comment department was the FCC inquiry into ISP network management and whether classification under Title II would mean applying content regs.