satellite

Tech Knowledge Reply Comments in FCC ‘Set-Top Box’ Proceeding

Posted by | Broadband Internet, Video | No Comments

On Monday, Tech Knowledge filed the following reply comments at the Federal Communications Commission in its proceeding to impose wholesale unbundling regulations on cable and satellite video programming in the guise of regulating set-top boxes. The complete comments as filed can be downloaded from the FCC’s website in PDF format HERE. (Note, the HTLM version of the reply comments printed below does not contain the footnotes or appendices provided in the PDF version that was filed at the FCC.)

Executive Summary

The arguments made by proponents of the Wholesale Proposal affirm that its true purpose is to limit MVPDs’ ability to exercise editorial discretion by forcibly overwriting MVPDs’ video interfaces. The Communications Act, previous FCC findings, judicial precedent, and scientific studies in behavioral economics all demonstrate that the interface between consumers and MVPDs’ video programing is itself a form of speech or is otherwise entitled to First Amendment protection because it is intrinsic to MVPDs’ exercise of editorial discretion.

Consider Amazon’s example in its comments in this proceeding — that the Wholesale Proposal would enable Amazon to suggest that an MVPD subscriber watch Amazon’s own programming rather than an MVPDs’ program. In the context of the printed news, that would be equivalent to a rule permitting the Washington Post (a newspaper owned by Amazon CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos) to slap a new front page on the Washington Examiner that contains the Post’s chosen headlines and a message directing Examiner subscribers to read the Post instead. Though the Examiner’s subscribers would still have access to the Examiner’s content as a technical matter (by turning the page), the rule would have the effect of compelling the Examiner to publish (or subsidize the publishing of) that which it does not want to publish (the Post’s headlines and advertising messages) while effectively overriding the Examiner’s editorial decisions about what should be considered the “front page news” of the day. Similarly, the Wholesale Proposal would force MVPDs to publish that which they do not want to publish (i.e., mandatory “information flows”) in order to enable third-parties to direct MVPD subscribers to watch third-party programming (and its associated advertising) that displaces MVPDs’ own decisions regarding what programming should be highlighted on the video interface’s “front page.” Whether applied to print or video, such a rule would cut straight through the heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of press freedom.

Shifting control over the video choice architecture (and corresponding profits) from MVPDs (and the video programming vendors with whom they negotiate content licenses) to Internet software companies (and their affiliated video programming vendors) would threaten the free flow of information and ideas by concentrating control over the video interface in the hands of a few, giant Internet software companies. Read More

Tech Knowledge Statement On FCC Proposal To Modify Regulations Governing Set-Top Boxes

Posted by | Regulatory State, Video | No Comments

For Immediate Release

 

Tech Knowledge Statement On FCC Proposal To Modify Regulations Governing Set-Top Boxes

Haymarket, VA, February 18, 2016 – Fred Campbell, Director of Tech Knowledge, released the following statement with respect to the Federal Communications Commission’s adoption at its February open meeting of a proposal to modify regulations governing cable and satellite set-top boxes:

The slogan for today’s FCC meeting, “Unlock The Box,” isn’t about unlocking cable and satellite set-top boxes. It’s about shifting some of the value of their underlying programming rights to Google and other powerful Internet companies.

In the STELA Reauthorization (STELAR) Act of 2014, Congress charged the FCC with establishing a working group of technical experts to recommend standards for promoting the “competitive availability of navigation devices,” not search engines and programming guides. But promoting Google’s ability to add cable and satellite programming packages to its online monopoly search engine and to create Google-branded programming guides is what the FCC’s proposed plan would ultimately do. The plan would allow Google to rebrand other video service providers’s programming packages as Google’s own and permit Google to track the behavior of video consumers in order to enhance Google’s advertising and other affiliated businesses.

The expert group established by the FCC at Congress’s behest recommended two different approaches — the approach proposed by the FCC today as well as an apps-based approach that would promote the competitive availability of navigation devices without compromising the value of existing programming packages or the contractual rights of programmers. But the fact sheet released by Chairman Wheeler in January didn’t mention the expert committee’s apps-based recommendation. The fact sheet informed the public about the Chairman’s preferred plan only, as if the only choice were between his plan or nothing at all.

Operating a government agency in this sort of shade does not serve the public interest. The public deserved to know about both options before editorial staffs around the nation began proclaiming their support for the only option the Chairman chose to present.

 Tech Knowledge promotes market-oriented technology policies on behalf of the public interest. Additional information about Tech Knowledge can be found on its website, tech knowledge.center.

New STELA Bill, Still Not Clean

Posted by | Video | No Comments

Recent news reports indicate that the Senate Commerce Committee has dropped the à la carte and Internet provisions in its STELA reauthorization bill (called STAVRA). But the bill is still not ‘clean’.

It appears that the bill still contains a provision codifying the FCC’s decision to prohibit independent TV stations from jointly negotiating retransmission consent agreements. Like the FCC rule, this prohibition would apply in all TV markets, including markets that lack effective competition among pay-TV providers. Under the bill, TV stations in these markets would be required to negotiate separately with a pay-TV operator who Congress has determined possesses monopoly market power. Pay-TV operators with monopoly market power don’t need government help in their negotiations with broadcast TV stations. Read More

Political Ads Are Litmus Test for FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

Posted by | Regulatory State, Video | No Comments

Since he took the helm of the Federal Communications Commission, Tom Wheeler, the former chief cable industry lobbyist, has come under fire for playing favorites with his former employers.

Now, the embattled Chairman is scrambling to clean up the mess caused by exempting pay-TV operators from political ad disclosures as candidates gear up for the election this November.

The law has long required broadcast television stations, cable operators, and satellite television to maintain publicly-accessible political files that disclose the identity of candidates and organizations that buy political ad time and how much it costs. That changed in 2012, when the FCC started requiring that broadcast television stations publish their political files in a searchable database hosted by the FCC.

Making it that much easier for attack groups to monitor rival political spending on broadcast television has given ad buyers an incentive to shift their campaign focus to less-transparent pay-TV channels. This and other FCC policies that tilt the playing field against TV stations are increasing the pressure on television networks to sell their programming to pay-TV directly, and could end free over-the-air television as we know it.

Some groups on the left have taken notice and decided its time to close this gaping pay-TV loophole. The Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, and the Sunlight Foundation recently filed a petition asking the FCC to expand the online filing requirement for political ads to pay-TV operators. Wheeler has put the petition out for comment, but didn’t commit to taking any action on it.

The petition is a compelling litmus test for Wheeler. If Wheeler truly is as “rabidly pro-competition” as he claims, he’ll act on the petition sooner rather than later. Read More

Does Senator Thune Embrace the Underlying Principle of ‘Strong’ Net Neutrality?

Posted by | Broadband Internet, Video | One Comment

Last Friday Broadcasting and Cable reported that the Senate Commerce Committee is proposing to replace market negotiations for retransmission consent with mandatory à la carte pricing for broadcast programming. The ‘local choice’ proposal would require TV stations to either (1) provide their programming to pay-TV operators for free or (2) offer their programming to pay-TV subscribers for a set per-subscriber price on an à la carte basis.

By eliminating any potential for market negotiations between pay-TV operators (who transmit the video content to subscribers) and TV stations (who provide the video content), the proposal would have the effect of separating content from distribution. It just so happens that this is the same goal that pro-net neutrality groups seek to achieve. Read More

‘Clean’ STELA Is the Right Approach as the Clock Winds Down

Posted by | Satellite, Video | No Comments

We’ll be marking the middle of summer with Independence Day celebrations next week, yet there is still no Senate Commerce Committee bill regarding the reauthorization of “STELA”, which is set to expire at the end of the year. The delay is likely due to the desire of some to use STELA as a vehicle for enacting piecemeal changes to the video laws. In the meantime, however, the STELA clock continues to wind down. At this hour, it should be clear that neither industry nor consumers would be well served by a video reform race against the clock.

Meaningful video reform would require a more thorough examination of the video marketplace and the potential impact of changing the laws that govern it. As CBIT noted in its recent white paper, “The Future of Broadcast Television”, the video reform debate has thus far been narrowly focused on only two options: (1) Preserving the status quo or (2) eliminating only the video regulations that enable television stations to meet their unique “public interest” obligations. Neither option is intended to harness market forces to meet consumer demand. Eliminating distortions in the video marketplace would require a truly comprehensive approach to video reform that does more than the limited options presented by industry.

With only six months left on the STELA clock, Congress is running out of time to adequately consider a more comprehensive, market-oriented approach to video reform. Though the current legislative framework undoubtedly distorts the video marketplace, rushing piecemeal reforms through the STELA reauthorization process would only result in more market distortions. Congress should take the time to do it right and consider video reform in the #CommActUpdate process, not STELA.

CBIT White Paper: The Future of Broadcast Television

Posted by | Satellite, Video, Wireless | One Comment

Click HERE to download the complete paper in PDF.

Executive Summary

The migration of consumers from over-the-air television to other video platforms has prompted a debate about the role that television (TV) stations should play in the future communications marketplace. This debate has focused on only two options, each of which is supported by a competing segment of the video marketplace:

  • Broadcasters support maintaining the regulatory status quo; and
  • Multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) support maintaining only the unique “public interest” obligations imposed on TV stations by the regulatory status quo while repealing the regulatory provisions that enable TV stations to meet those obligations.

Neither option would harness the power of the free market to determine the future of broadcast television. Though the first option would continue to rely on government intervention to preserve free over-the-air television, the second option would bear even less resemblance to a functioning free market. Repealing only the regulations that enable TV stations to meet their unique public interest obligations would effectively result in the forced abandonment or sale of TV stations at fire-sale prices, thus destroying the legitimate, investment-backed expectations of TV stations through government action. It would be the antithesis of a free market approach.

This paper proposes a free market alternative that could unleash the broadcast industry’s full competitive potential and usher in a new wave of innovation and investment in communications: Enabling TV stations to innovate and compete in the MVPD and wireless broadband market segments through comprehensive, market-based regulatory reform. This alternative would allow TV stations to transition their businesses to a free market approach by eliminating the following anticompetitive regulations:

  • The free television mandate,
  • The broadcast MVPD prohibition,
  • The Federal broadcast tax,
  • Broadcast ownership limits,
  • Broadcast programming restrictions, and
  • Broadcast spectrum limitations.

This pro-competitive approach would enable the elimination of regulations that are necessitated by the government-mandated broadcast business model while respecting the investment-backed expectations of TV station owners. The result would be a truly comprehensive approach to reforming broadcast regulation that would promote competition, investment, and innovation by allowing market forces to determine the future of broadcast television stations. Read More

Outdated Policy Decisions Don’t Dictate Future Rights in Perpetuity

Posted by | Satellite, Video, Wireless | No Comments

Congressional debates about STELA reauthorization have resurrected the notion that TV stationsmust provide a free service” because they “are using public spectrum.” This notion, which is rooted in 1930s government policy, has long been used to justify the imposition of unique “public interest” regulations on TV stations. But outdated policy decisions don’t dictate future rights in perpetuity, and policymakers abandoned the “public spectrum” rationale long ago. Read More

The Anticompetitive Effects of Broadcast Television Regulations

Posted by | Video | No Comments

Shortly after Tom Wheeler assumed the Chairmanship at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), he summed up his regulatory philosophy as “competition, competition, competition.” Promoting competition has been the norm in communications policy since Congress adopted the Telecommunications Act of 1996 in order to “promote competition and reduce regulation.” The 1996 Act has largely succeeded in achieving competition in communications markets with one glaring exception: broadcast television. In stark contrast to the pro-competitive approach that is applied in other market segments, Congress and the FCC have consistently supported policies that artificially limit the ability of TV stations to compete or innovate in the communications marketplace. Read More