Public Knowledge President Gigi B. Sohn today suggested to a House subcommittee a series of changes to copyright law that would promote competition and do away with an antiquated series of rules that no longer make sense with today's technology.
In testimony to the House Communications, Technology and the Internet Subcommittee, Sohn said that the legal framework governing how cable and satellite TV services offer their programming is a patchwork of laws and regulations that unnecessarily differentiates between types of providers, restricts the availability of content to consumers, and sets the stage for discriminatory pricing.”
Sohn suggested replacing the current structure with one that would have cable and satellite follow the same rules for obtaining licenses to use copyrighted works, for broadcasting signals into local markets and for paying copyright royalty rates. In addition, Sohn said, services that carry video over the Internet could also be included in the unified regulatory structure.
The current regulatory structure for retransmission consent, which is meant to promote localism in broadcasting, instead produces “anticompetitive results,” Sohn said: “The current retransmission consent scheme, the must-carry/carry-one-carry-all rules, and distant signal restrictions combine to create an imbalance that allows broadcasters to engage in discriminatory pricing. This in turn raises prices for customers and hurts the ability of smaller MVPDs [multichannel video programming distributor]to compete in the marketplace. To remedy this, Congress must at the least provide for more transparency in pricing and effective remedies for anticompetitive behavior, and ideally create a regulatory structure to prevent such behavior in the first place.”
Congress should make retransmission consent deals transparent, Sohn said, possibly combined with a statutory retransmission consent license with standardized rates: “A compulsory license with standardized rates would ensure price parity among MVPDs, as well as effectively eliminating the troubling tying arrangements and preventing broadcasters from withholding important local content as leverage against smaller video providers.”
Finally, Sohn said Congress should reform the “distant signal” protections for broadcasters which often prevent consumers from viewing nearby TV channels. Over the long term, Congress should allow programming providers to offer content their consumers want. In the near term, Congress should relax the rules to allow in-state signals to be supplied to consumers who now must be given out-of-state channels as a result of the rules.
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