FCC Moves Forward with Plan Reclassify Streaming Internet Services

The Federal Communication Commission is moving forward with its efforts to give Internet streaming services access to content, just like cable and satellite TV services. The change would prevent companies like Comcast and Time Warner from blocking streaming services from entering the market, and give potential cord cutters more options for watching the shows they want.

FCC working to open the doors for more online TV optionsFCC working to open the doors for more online TV options

The FCC is looking at reclassifying Internet-based content providers as multichannel video programming distributors (MVPD), which would put them in the same league as traditional content providers.

The proposed change would make it easier for companies wanting to offer shows over the Internet, but it comes with a big limitation that will disappoint hopeful cord cutters. The FCC is blocking content providers such as Netflix and Hulu because they're on demand content providers, and that's not a market the FCC seems to be interested in protecting at the moment. Instead, the reclassification would more likely benefit companies like the now defunct Aereo which captured over the air broadcasts and redirected them through the Internet to its subscribers.

Aereo found itself on the wrong side of a lawsuit when NBC, ABC, Fox, and other broadcasters, sued the company for directing over the air TV signals into Internet streams. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Aereo violated copyright laws, effectively putting the company out of business.

The FCC isn't saying exactly why on demand streaming services are being excluded from the plan, although it isn't hard to see the decision as a move to placate cable and satellite TV companies that don't want to see any new competition in the market.

Depending on how the proposal is interpreted, it's possible the change could open the door for Apple to swing new content deals for Apple TV—assuming the channels it adds aren't offering on demand content, and instead stick with real time streaming.

FCC officials are looking for comments on the proposal, and no doubt the cable and satellite TV giants will be weighing in. The agency specifically wants input how MVPD will be interpreted for companies looking to offer multiple online video streams:

  • An alternative interpretation that would require an MVPD to have control over a transmission path
  • How each interpretation would impact MVPDs, consumers, and content owners, and how each would promote competition and broadband adoption
  • How the Commission should apply its retransmission consent “good faith” negotiation rules with respect to Internet-based MVPDs to protect local broadcasters
  • Whether these proposals would affect the regulatory status of IP-delivered video services by cable operators and DBS providers.

There isn't any guarantee the FCC's proposed changes will go into effect, but the fact that the agency is working to find a way to keep Internet service providers and broadcasters from blocking online streaming services is a step in the right direction. If Interent services are classified as MVPDs, that'll bring us even closer to the point where average TV consumers can seriously consider cutting the cord to their cable or satellite provider.

[Some image elements courtesy Shutterstock]