Senators, FCC Commissioners Weigh in on Video Rules Changes
WASHINGTON D.C. March 13, 2013 — During Tuesday’s FCC oversight hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, several policymakers called for updating the rules and regulations governing video services in light of the significant changes that have taken place since the Cable Act of 1992 was adopted nearly 21 years ago. Notably, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said of retransmission consent rules: “[I]t may be time to update those provisions to reduce the chances of blackouts during retransmission consent negotiations.”
The chorus for updating video rules and regulations grows louder by the day. It’s time for Congress and the FCC to act.
Senate Commerce Committee
FCC Oversight Hearing
March 12, 2013
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): Finally, because my time is limited: Blackouts. Sports blackouts. Grave concern, deeply troubling, especially to many in Connecticut. When they see that their favorite football team on Sunday or their favorite baseball team or their college sports team has been blacked out in their area. The commission, as you know, put out a notice of inquiry but hasn’t yet moved to a notice of rulemaking. I wrote to the FCC back in 2011 to ask that you open this proceeding to discuss whether the nearly 40 year-old sports blackout rule, I think it’s 40 years old, is still relevant in today’s environment. And I wonder if you could give me an update, a status report, on where you are on this issue, which is profoundly important to people in Connecticut, but I think across the nation.
FCC CHAIRMAN JULIUS GENACHOWSKI: Blackouts are of tremendous concern to consumers, we certainly hear from them as you do. An area where it comes up too often is the retransmission consent area. This is an area where we’ve had discussions with the committee in the past and look forward to continuing it, because it may be time to update those provisions to reduce the chances of blackouts during retransmission consent negotiations.
SEN. JOHN THUNE (R-SD): More broadly, I believe we also must focus on establishing a 21st Century legal and regulatory structure that serves the purposes of our 21st Century economy. It’s time for this committee to take a look at modernizing our nation’s rules and regulations to better reflect today’s converged marketplace.
FCC COMMISSIONER AJIT PAI: I think one of the fundamental changes that we’ve seen in the communications landscape involves the video marketplace. It’s changed so much from when I was a kid and we had three channels and my Dad would direct me to put the rabbit ears just so, so we could get reception. Now, we can receive on any number of devices high-definition programming when we want it. So I think one of the central problems that we confront as regulators is that our rules simply haven’t kept up the pace with changes in the video marketplace…The 1992 Cable Act, as you pointed out, captured a snapshot of the market at a moment in time that no longer really applies. Cable operators, for example, had a 95% market share 21 years ago; that has gone below 60% now. Over-the-top distribution was unheard of even 10-15 years ago. Now you have people who are running Internet-only channels reaching millions and millions of people.
SEN. DEAN HELLER (R-NV): Commissioner McDowell and Pai have been discussing FCC regulations and whether they make sense in today’s world. I agree with them that we regulate telecommunications and silos when the world that we live in is becoming more interconnected each day. And I also agree with Sen. Wicker, believe it or not, actually we always agree, but we need to have a strong discussion here in this Senate committee regarding the 92 Cable Act and the 96 Telecommunications Act and whether those laws are promoting or hindering innovation, investments in infrastructure and broadband adoption.
SEN. DAN COATS (R-IN): Back then, this was in the 80s, in my 8 years on energy and commerce the competition and innovation was occurring so fast, at least I thought it was fast, we had a tough [time], the process of legislating and regulating could hardly keep up with the change. We are light years ahead of where that was 30 years ago. And today it’s mind boggling how quickly it changes. And so, I guess my question is how do we begin to, through the legislative process and regulatory process, keep up with this innovation? We are passing laws and regulations that are out-of-date before they even get enacted.
SEN. ROGER WICKER (R-MS): We must seriously examine the need to modernize our nation’s telecommunication laws particularly in the ultracompetitive video marketplace, to create a landscape that will foster the flexibility necessary to provide the best service and most competitive rates to consumers…
The American Television Alliance (ATVA) brings together an unprecedented coalition of consumer groups, cable, satellite, telephone companies, and independent programmers to raise awareness about the risk viewers face as broadcasters increasingly threaten service disruptions that would deny viewers access to the programs they and their families enjoy.