FCC votes to roll back net neutrality; explores raising media ownership cap | OTT | News | Rapid TV News
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The communications regulator in the US has carried out a pair of policy decisions that are sparking controversy: the FCC has repealed net neutrality, and also chose to pave an easier path for the proposed Sinclair-Tribune mega-merger by issuing a proceeding to, among other things, relax or eliminate the 39 percent national broadcast audience reach cap.

pai 15 dec 2017On the net neutrality front, the vote, as expected Fell 3-2 along party lines in favour of eliminating most prohibitions on favouring or throttling traffic, or from establishing a pay-to-play scheme that requires OTT content providers to pay for the privilege of transmission.

The FCC released its order on net neutrality and Title II regulation in 2015 under the Obama Administration. In that order was a decision to reclassify broadband providers as public utilities — in 2014 Verizon won a lawsuit defanging the FCC's ability to enforce net neutrality by successfully arguing that as the rules stood, the regulator had no jurisdiction over broadband. The reclassification fixed that, and brought broadband providers firmly under the FCC’s oversight and therefore subject to net neutrality regulations.

This week’s vote abruptly reverses that policy, and characterises Title II, which is the section that classifies broadband providers as public utilities and therefore under the FCC’s purview, as an overreaction.

“Because of the paucity of concrete evidence of harms to the openness of the Internet, the Title II Order and its proponents have heavily relied on purely speculative threats. We do not believe hypothetical harms, unsupported by empirical data, economic theory, or even recent anecdotes, provide a basis for public-utility regulation of ISPs,” the FCC said. “Consequently, Title II regulation is an unduly heavy-handed approach to what at worst are relatively minor problems.”

The ownership cap meanwhile is meant to prevent a single company, with a single agenda, from controlling everyone’s local news. The cap is statutory, which means that it is intended to be enforced by the FCC, not amended by it, in theory.

The controversial Sinclair deal would give it more than 39% national reach, which means under current law that it would need to spin off some local stations in order to comply with regulation. Without the cap, that requirement will be ameliorated.

The anti-merger Coalition to Save Local Media, which represents the American Cable Association, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, A Wealth of Entertainment channel, Cinemoi, Common Cause, Competitive Carriers Association, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, DISH, Indivisible– Herndon & Reston, ITTA, Latino Victory Project, Leased Access Programmers Association, NABET-CWA, National Hispanic Media Coalition, NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association, One America News Network, Parents Television Council, Public Knowledge, RIDE TV, the Sports Fans Coalition, TheBlaze, and UCC, unsurprisingly opposed the move.

“It is also clear that eliminating this cap would yield the greatest immediate benefit to Sinclair, which seeks approval for a merger that would give it unprecedented reach in American households and stifle local and independent media voices,” it said. “Indeed, Sinclair is relying on the relaxation or elimination of the national ownership cap to complete its acquisition of Tribune.”

Representative Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif) also weighed in. “Other countries that don’t have rules like this – like the former USSR – sometimes end up forcing their citizens to only get their information from one source,” he said. “Sometimes it’s one corporation, and sometimes it’s the government, but whether it’s private or public, 100% is 100%. The FCC is proposing blowing the cap off the rule that ensures there is more than one source of information.”

The FCC will set up a process of public comment before voting on the proposal.