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FCC Seeks Input on COVID-19 Impact on Competition

(Image credit: FCC)

The FCC is seeking comment on its latest report to Congress on the state of competition in the communications marketplace, the first under new chair Jessica Rosenworcel, including any effects of the COVID-19 pandemic—the last report was in 2020—and how changes in the distribution of video has affected the relevance of set-top boxes.

The report must look at competition between and among broadcast stations, MVPDs, satellite operations, ISPs and "new and emergent communications services."

The report, which must be submitted every two years, should include data from 2020 and 20201, as well as "information on any notable trends and developments that have occurred during early 2022," the FCC's Office of Economics and Analytics said in issuing the request for comment.

The last time around, MVPDs argued that the FCC should start looking at over-the-top video competitors as the 800-pound gorillas they are rather than the plucky upstarts they once were. That view from Washington could change how traditional cable systems and cable broadband providers are allowed to operate, and MVPDs are likely to argue that subsequent events have put an exclamation point on that.

Under the video competition category, the FCC will take a page from the 2020 repot, dividing video services into three categories, MVPDs, online video distributors (OVDs) and broadcast TV stations.

The FCC wants input on both competition within those groups and between them. Broadcasters have always argued that the FCC should regulate broadcasters as though they had strong intermodal competition from OVDs, MVPDs and others rather than look at broadcast as its own competition marketplace.

The FCC is asking "on whether laws, regulations, regulatory practices, or demonstrated marketplace practices pose a barrier to competitive entry into the video marketplace, or to the competitive expansion of existing providers."

Broadcasters have long argued that FCC limits on their ownership represents just such a barrier to competitive expansion in the face of unregulated over-the-top video services like Netflix.

Among the things the FCC is looing at are the impact of COVID-19, the effects of MVPD early termination fees and the ability to switch providers, and the impact of how "the ongoing evolution" of the programming marketplace has affected the set-top box market, and "the extent to which consumer choice for devices to access MVPD content remains a relevant aspect of the competitive environment."

The FCC also wants info on pricing, ad frequency, subscription trends, device compatibility, ownership, distribution, diversity, the state of the deployment of the ATSC 3.0 advanced broadcast transmission standard, market exits and entries.

Comments are due July 1 and reply comments August 1. ■