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FCC Proposes Changing Definition of ‘MVPD’

The FCC is proposing to change the definition of multichannel video programming distribution service, which currently applies to distributors of multiple channels of scheduled linear programming.

Key to determining what constitutes an MVPD is the definition of “channel” in “multichannel.” One interpretation of “channel” is “transmission path”-related, applying to a portion of the radio frequency spectrum, which could be a satellite transponder or a cable channel. Another definition, which the FCC is proposing, would define a channel, for MVPD purposes, based on “linear programming”, without regard to the transmission path being used. In its 57-page Notice of Proposed Rulemaking - FCC 14-210 (NPRM) the FCC proposes to extend the definition of MVPD to include distributors of scheduled linear programming over the Internet.

If the FCC grants Internet content distributors MVPD status, they would gain the rights and the obligations cable and satellite MVPDs have, including access to content, including local broadcast channels, and a requirement to negotiate with broadcasters for carriage of their signals. This becomes complicated if the new IP MVPDs have nationwide distribution. How do they protect local stations? The NPRM asks whether nationwide MVPDs should be allowed to opt out of carrying any broadcast stations. Copyright laws will also have to be changed to allow IP MPVDs to carry broadcast content.

In addition to giving Internet video programming distribution services such as Aereo and Sky Angel U.S. access to content, a change in MVPD definition could also create new responsibilities for the Internet-based linear programming being rolled out by existing cable and satellite MVPDs.

It seems inevitable that linear content distribution will move to IP-based systems. ATSC 3.0 will be IP-based. Should the FCC give MVPD rights to Internet-based distributors, what will happen when an IP MVPD tries to use a cable company's Internet bandwidth to compete with the cable company's video services? The data rates we're seeing in recent 5G technology demonstrations imply that wireless bandwidth won't be an issue in providing as many streams of video content viewers desire, at least in urban area. This could allow some consumers to bypass wired cable completely. Another question is where are broadcasters in this new world? Once broadcasters convert to ATSC 3.0 and IP delivery, in addition to being broadcasters, could they become wireless IP MVPDs?