FCC's Wheeler: OTT Report And Order By Fall

Also doubles down on incentive auction timeline
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FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said Friday that he expected to vote on a report and order on defining some over-the-top video providers as MVPDs by the fall.

In a speech at the Brookings Institution about promoting broadband, the chairman said that one way to do that would be to "give over-the-top video providers the ability to choose the same business model as cable and satellite providers, with the same program access rights."

Saying OTT's were lining up to "expand video choice," Wheeler added: "We expect to move that [proposal] to a report and order this fall."

He has already proposed that for "linear" OTT providers — ones who provide day and date lineups of content channels similar to cable and satellite operators, have nondiscriminatory access to programming affiliated with competing cable and satellite distributors — but the FCC has yet to vote on the proposal.

In December 2014, the FCC launched the rulemaking to define some online video providers (OVDs) as MVPDs, at least with respect to access to cable and TV station programming.

The item proposed is to require that linear OVDs be given access to cable-affiliated programming and local TV station broadcasts regardless of whether or not they have facilities based distribution platforms. Beyond that, it tees up lots of questions about how to apply that definition and the ramifications of doing so.

The idea is to help promote online video as a competitor to traditional cable and satellite providers, which the FCC says should produce more choices for programming, by making the MVPD definition technology neutral. "Video is no longer tied to a certain transmission technology, so our interpretation of MVPD should not be tied to transmission facilities," Wheeler said at the time of the vote.

Cable operators have countered that they thought a facilities-based transmission path is part and parcel of MVPD status, rights and obligations.

The NPRM also reverses a tentative, bureau-level conclusion in the Sky Angel program-access complaint that having a facilities-based transmission path was necessary to be an MVPD.

Turning to the broadcast incentive auction, Wheeler said he had talked with House Communications Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and they were in agreement: "There will be an incentive auction in the first quarter of 2016."

Wheeler also said he was encouraged by what he was hearing about potential broadcaster participation in the auction.

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