New Video Market May Need Lighter FCC Touch

Bureau chiefs talk policy, influence at Cable Show in D.C. 6/17/2013 12:01:00 AM Eastern

Last week, Bill Lake was one of seven FCC bureau and
office chiefs to participate in a session titled “Commissioning
Tomorrow: Insight from FCC Bureau and Office
Chiefs” at the annual Cable Show in Washington, D.C. Among
other informative, spirited opinions that came out of the panel,
media bureau chief Lake made it clear that those FCC officials
commissioning tomorrow—and
over the next several years—should
pay “close attention” to the issue of
whether the FCC will need to apply a
lighter regulatory hand to a dynamic
and changing video marketplace.

The FCC has not weighed in on
whether online video distributors
should be subject to traditional
regulations applied to multichannel
video programming distributors
(MVPDs), but Lake pointed
out that in the Sky Angel decision,
the media bureau tentatively concluded
that the IP-delivered Sky
Angel was not likely to succeed in
making the case that it is an MVPD.

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association’s
decision to hold its Cable Show in D.C. this year meant the
panel was going to be a packed one, giving moderator Rick
Chessen from NCTA—himself a former FCC official—lots of
options for opinions about issues, not to mention the successful
lobbying-argument record of the bureau chief position.

When asked whether such arguments ever changed his
mind on a position, Lake thought back to one not currently
being litigated—the FCC’s selectable output waiver, which
allowed for earlier cable VOD windows for movies.

Lake Wavers on Waiver

Lake said he initially believed the waiver was an unjustifiable
incursion on the use of devices any way a consumer wanted.
But he added that he had ultimately been persuaded that such
limited authority for operators to control what comes out of a
set-top box actually gave consumers something they would not
otherwise have—that same early window.

Lake said his mind was changed by a “very
good explanation” of the consumer benefit.
He pointed out that the waiver had not had a
big impact in terms of opening that window,
but that it did not prove to be a consumer
harm either.

Julius Knapp, FCC office of engineering
& technology chief, suggested that the interplay
between stakeholders and the FCC
was integral to the decision-making process
in general. “So much of what we do relies on
interaction with all the stakeholders,” Knapp
said, adding that interaction has a real impact
on decisions more often than not.

The 500-Pound Gorilla

Chessen asked the panelists to weigh in on some big issues
and sleeper issues. The spectrum auctions got lots of
votes in the “big” department—or the 500-pound gorilla,
as Lake tabbed it.

Asked about the FCC’s open retransmission consent rulemaking,
Lake said it is still open, with the FCC still watching
the industry and both the continued and threatened blackouts.
He also talked about the price of content as one of the factors
in those impasses, adding that the FCC continues to have an
open mind about the possible need for a regulatory response.

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