Is Capitol Hill Leveling the OTT/MVPD Field?

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is crafting a bill that aims to level the playing field between tradition multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) like Verizon and AT&T and startup online video companies.  With his bill, Rockefeller, who has announced that he won’t seek a sixth term in 2014, wants  to grant those smaller companies the right to content from classic cable networks as well as that from broadcast networks. If it becomes law, the bill would benefit well-known over-the-top (OTT) providers like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, as well as more obscure startups like Aereo. At its core, the bill aims to reduce the stranglehold on exclusive content MVPDs have enjoyed for so long, opening that content up to online providers.

Under the bill, which would be administered by the FCC, MVPDs would not be allowed to discourage video programming vendors from selling their content to online video companies. They would also be unable to retaliate against vendors for doing so. Furthermore, video programmers would have free reign to make their content available direct to the consumer through devices like Roku and Apple TV, and if they wanted, they could choose to even make their content available free of charge.

Because large MVPDs are comonly also an Internet Service Provider, the bill also contains language that is geared toward preventing them from abusing their power. Some provisions include preventing ISPs from being able to slow down traffic from online video distributors or act in an otherwise unfair manner toward these competitors.