Is STELA the Vehicle for Video Reform?

by on August 8, 2014 · 0 comments

Even though few things are getting passed this Congress, the pressure is on to reauthorize the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) before it expires at the end of this year. Unsurprisingly, many have hoped this “must pass bill” will be the vehicle for broader reform of video. Getting video law right is important for our content rich world, but the discussion needs to expand much further than STELA.

Over at the American Action Forum, I explore a bit of what would be needed, and just how far the problems are rooted:

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) efforts to spark localism and diversity of voices in broadcasting stands in stark contrast to relative lack of regulation governing non-broadcast content providers like Netflix and HBO, which have revolutionized delivery and upped the demand for quality content. These amorphous social goals also have limited broadcasters. Without any consideration for the competitive balance in a local market, broadcasters are barred in what they can own, are saddled with various programming restrictions, and are subject to countless limitations in the use of their spectrum. Moreover, the FCC has sought to outlaw deals between broadcasters who negotiate jointly for services and ads.

In the effort to support specific “public interest” goals, the FCC has implemented certain regulations which have cabined both broadcasters and paid TV distributors. In turn, these regulations forced companies to develop in proscribed ways, and in turn prompted further regulatory action when they have tried to innovate. Speaking about this cat-and-mouse game in the financial sector, Professor Edward Kane termed the relationship, the “regulatory dialectic.”

But unwrapping the regulatory dialectic in video law will require a vehicle far more expansive than STELA. Ultimately, I conclude,

Both the quality of programming and the means of accessing it have undergone dramatic changes in the past two decades but the regulations have not. Consumer preferences and choices are shifting, which needs to be met by alterations in the regulatory regime. STELA is one part of the puzzle, but like so many other areas of telecommunication law, a comprehensive look at the body of laws ruling video is needed. It is increasingly clear that the laws governing programming must be updated to meet the 21st century marketplace.

On this site especially, there has been a vigorous debate on just what this framework would entail. For a more comprehensive look, check out:

  • Geoffrey Manne’s testimony on STELA before the House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce;
  • Adam Thierer’s and Brent Skorup’s paper on video law entitled, “Video Marketplace Regulation: A Primer on the History of Television Regulation and Current Legislative Proposals”;
  • Ryan Radia’s blog post entitled, “A Free Market Defense of Retransmission Consent”;
  • Fred Campbell’s white paper on the “Future of Broadcast Television,” as well as his various posts on the subject;
  • And Hance Hanley’s posts on video law.

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