Yesterday, the House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology subcommittee held a hearing on FCC oversight of broadband. This included the possibility that the FCC may reclassify streaming services like YouTube TV into cable TV companies.
This comes as recently 20 US Senators joined a growing number of local TV station owners to ask the Federal Communications Commission to turn streaming services like YouTube TV, DIRECTV STREAM, Fubo, and more into cable TV companies. Back in October, the Preserve Viewer Choice Coalition, a group that includes YouTube TV and Fubo, pushed back.
The coalition said the idea of applying 90s-era cable regulations on live streaming services goes beyond the FCC’s authority, it tweeted. “The current streaming landscape gives viewers access to local news through their pick of services & subscriptions, allowing them to watch what they want, where they want, when they want,” it said in a follow-up post.
Now, during yesterday’s hearing Representative and Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA5), reiterated that only congress has the ability to regulate streaming in her opening remarks, “We recently sent a letter to Chair Rosenworcel, cautioning against refreshing the record to apply outdated, decades old regulations to an evolving media marketplace. Since I haven’t received a response, I will reiterate my concern and firm view that changes to laws that govern the media marketplace need to be done by Congress, not by the FCC.”
Later in the hearing McMorris Rodgers followed up and directly asked FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel about the issue. “Earlier this year, Chairman Latta and I sent you a letter urging you not to reopen the 2014 proceedings on vMVPDs. At the last oversight hearing you stated and I quote, ‘the Commission’s authority extends only to what Congress provided in the 1984 Cable Act and the 1992 Cable Act…’ Because you acknowledged that the FCC does not have the legal authority to regulate vMVPDs, do you commit to not taking any action on this issue?”
Chairwoman Rosenworcel responded, “I think that our duties and authority in this area are constrained by the 1984 Cable Act and the 1992 Cable Act… That’s why I think the request to incorporate virtual service providers is complex, doesn’t fit neatly in the law. We are combing over the record and trying to understand adjacent copyright issues to figure out a way forward, but I think fundamentally this is an issue where those who want us to act are going to have to come to Congress.”
That question over if the FCC has the power to make these changes to regulate streaming as cable TV.
Preserve Viewer Choice Coalition Spokesperson Bryce Harlow after the hearing concluded said, “Chairwoman Rosenworcel was extremely clear again today on the FCC’s ability to regulate streaming services; congress is the only one that can regulate streaming video in the manner that large station groups seek. Her thoughtful remarks reaffirm her prior sentiments and are a win for streaming viewers across the country whose ability to access high-quality and affordable content we’re fighting hard to protect.”
In a statement sent to Cord Cutters News the Coalition for Local News said “We appreciate FCC Chair Rosenworcel’s words about the importance of localism, but words are not enough at a time when the failure to modernize rules for the streaming era threatens the long-term viability of local news. In 2014, the FCC recognized its authority to modernize the rules to include streamers. But the right place to start is to re-open the existing record so that industry participants can help the FCC and Congress understand how the market has changed. There is no question of the FCC’s authority to take that action. It’s time to end the delay, which only serves the interests of media giants, and instead move this process forward by refreshing the record to ensure the future of local broadcast.”
This dispute pits the streaming services against an alliance of local TV station owners, which formed their own group called the Coalition for Local News in July to advocate that the FCC apply the same kind of cable TV-style regulations on cord cutting services. If the FCC agrees to change the rules, it would force YouTube TV, Hulu, Fubo, and more to strike deals directly with the owners of local TV station owners instead of the big networks.
The Coalition for Local News, made up of 600 local TV stations owned by groups like Nexstar, gathered some key allies when those 20 lawmakers sent their letter to the FCC, expressing concern that streaming services like YouTube TV could undermine local news if the agency doesn’t regulate them.
If local TV stations win, it would dramatically change how the FCC regulates live TV streaming services, and give companies like Nexstar and Gray Television a seat at the bargaining table. YouTube TV, Fubo, and others wouldn’t be able to strike deals directly with Paramount for all CBS stations, for example. Instead, they will need to go to each individual owner of each local TV station. This is what cable TV companies have to do, and it is what live TV streaming services could do if the FCC considers this appeal.
This comes as a growing number of local TV station owners have complained that streaming services are not paying enough for their channels. This could also drive up the cost of streaming services by forcing them to pay more to the FCC every year as cable TV companies.
For now, the FCC has not decided if it will look into changing streaming into a cable TV company. Though a growing number of groups, including local broadcasters and the National Association of Broadcasters, are asking them to do so.