The US is ready to redefine “television” to include the internet

It’s all just glass.
It’s all just glass.
Image: AP/Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Showtime
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The US Federal Communications Commission is considering whether to treat certain online video services like cable and satellite TV providers.

The move would help the online services get cheaper access to major network programming and could allow them to become stronger competitors to the dominant pay-TV providers like Comcast.

“This is a very big deal,” said Richard Greenfield, an industry analyst for BTIG. “It could pose very significant challenges to the traditional [cable TV] bundle.”

The FCC’s Media Bureau is working on the proposal, which could be shared more broadly within the commission as early as this week, according to an FCC official.

Kim Hart, an FCC spokesman, declined to comment.

The proposal would only apply to online services that offer pre-scheduled programming. So the rules wouldn’t cover Netflix, which allows subscribers to watch videos whenever they want.

But it could revive the controversial online video service Aereo, which allowed subscribers to watch broadcast TV channels on their computers and Internet connected-TVs. The Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that Aereo was stealing the broadcasters’ copyrighted content.

In response, Aereo asked to be reclassified as a cable provider. The move wouldn’t give it free access to broadcast programming, but it would force the broadcasters to negotiate following certain rules and would likely mean cheaper access to their channels.

“Aereo is back,” Greenfield said.

Classifying the online services as cable providers would bring a variety of regulatory perks but it would also carry some burdens—such as requirements to offer certain stations.

The proposal is only an initial step. So even if the commission approves it, the agency will then have to seek public comment before making any final decisions.

Multichannel News first reported on the proposal Monday.

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