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Consumer Choice in Online Video Act

Several months ago the FCC launched a Notice of Inquiry concerning whether the definition of “Multi-channel Video Programming Distributor” or “MVPD” should be expanded to include online video distributors (“OVDs”) such as Netflix. That action was prompted by Sky Angel’s attempt to file a program access complaint with the FCC. To date, however, the FCC has done nothing more than receive comments from the public.

On November 12, 2013, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. VA) unveiled a bill (the “Consumer Choice in Online Video Act”) that would allow online video distributors to elect some of the same rights afforded to traditional MVPDs, including rights under the FCC’s program access rules. Those rules, originally promulgated to assist satellite television providers in competing with cable operators, are intended to ensure that all MVPDs have non-discriminatory access to cable-affiliated programming content. While the bill would not re-define the term “MVPD”, it would give OVDs the right to adopt an MVPD-like model, triggering application of similar rights and obligations conferred on traditional MVPDs under the 1992 Cable Act. According to Rockefeller, the goal is to “largely replicate those types of protections for online services to give them the type of breathing room they need to get access to the consumer and content and ensure that the current market incumbents aren’t preventing the rise of new, innovative services.”

The Rockefeller bill, along with a bill introduced by Senator John McCain a few months ago to force cable operators to offer a la carte video programming to consumers, is just one of many such cable television reform initiatives leading up to extension of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (“STELA”) before the end of year 2013. Rockefeller described his bill as the “ultimate a la carte” legislation that would give consumers the ability to “watch the programming they want to watch, when they want to watch it, how they want to watch it, and pay for only what they actually watch.

The text of the Consumer Choice in Online Video Act may be accessed here:


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