WASHINGTON, November 4, 2014 – Internet television services like the constantly beleaguered Aereo may soon be regulated like cable TV, if the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has his way. In a recent blog post, Tom Wheeler stated the possibility of making the rules that govern video content and providers “technology neutral.”
If the rules were changed, it might be a win for companies like Aereo. Originally, the company allowed customers to rent a tiny antenna housed in Aereo’s facilities that picked up free, over-the-air signals, which allowed them to stream or record the television shows broadcast over those signals.
In a manner similar to how tech companies like Uber and Airbnb are sidestepping the traditional industry and disrupting existing business providers, Aereo argued that it was a technology company and not a cable company. Under that argument, the company maintained, compulsory copyright fees did not apply to them.
But after losing its copyright infringement case in the Supreme Court in June, Aereo’s attempts attempt to rebrand itself as internet-based TV was thwarted when a federal judge denied the company’s request for a cable license on October 23. By making the law “technology neutral,” Wheeler stated, the market for video program access would open to internet-based providers seeking to fairly negotiate for content. It would “also stimulate the high-speed broadband buildout,” said Wheeler.
The Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992 allowed satellite providers like DirecTV and Dish Network and telephone providers like AT&T to enter the television content space without fear of lacking or paying a high price for content created by the cable companies with which they competed.
When the Telecommunications Act was amended in 1996, the law specified the technology used in order to classify as a content provider. Internet-based television providers were left out, leaving them to face obstacles in obtaining content in the years that followed.