The principal regulations that govern the relationship between local news stations and the providers that distribute TV to American households were codified in the early 1990s. Back then, few Americans had email addresses, let alone 24/7 access to the internet like we do today.
It’s no wonder that those regulations don’t contemplate the advent of live streaming services or make clear exactly how those services ought to be regulated. But that was then, and this is now. Live streaming is, by far, the fastest growing pay-TV product, taking significant market share from traditional cable and satellite companies.
When technology evolves and markets change, regulations either get modernized to keep up with the shifting landscape or, inevitably, they start to lose their impact as the goals the regulations were intended to achieve are no longer delivered.
In the case of the TV ecosystem, one of the main goals of FCC regulation is to promote the concept of “localism” – the idea that in the United States, our countless, diverse local communities need and deserve access to media that is rooted in and dedicated to serving those markets. In particular, the rules that require cable and satellite pay-TV providers to negotiate directly with local broadcasters for the rights to retransmit their programming has been critical to the flourishing of local news over the past three-plus decades.
But in the new streaming era, that goal is at risk of being lost.
That is why the rules need to be modernized – i.e, reviewed to ensure that they align with the way technology and the market currently works.
Modernization does not mean subjecting new market entrants to old rules. Reclassifying live streamers (vMVPDs) as “multichannel video programming distributors” (MVPDs) for the purpose of the FCC’s retransmission consent rules would simply require streamers to negotiate with local broadcasters for the distribution of their content in good faith, in line with the well-understood bargaining rules set before streaming existed.
That is hardly an unbearable regulatory burden. It would simply take a well-established framework and update it for the modern marketplace. And, in doing so, give local news stations a seat at the table.
This Coalition is not asking anyone to “turn back the clock.” We are asking for the FCC to use its existing authority to align the rules with the modern day market. In a fair marketplace where local broadcasters are able to participate in good faith negotiations with all distributors of their content, local news will thrive.