FCC's net neutrality, merger decisions could set the dial on future of TV
America's beloved television is getting an extreme Internet makeover, and questions over what shows viewers will get online and how much they pay for them could soon be resolved by the Federal Communications Commission.
Over the next few weeks, the FCC will decide on Internet access regulation and a proposed merger by Comcast and NBC Universal that could chart a new course for the future of TV.
Those deliberations would create first-time rules affecting how television series and movies reach consumers with Internet connections and how much companies can charge for the service. It's the government's strongest effort yet to lay out some boundaries in the headlong rush for online video.
The picture looks fuzzy for Internet users. As drafted, the policies under deliberation may slow the trend of consumers breaking free of their cable and satellite bundles to watch cheaper or free episodes of shows such as "Mad Men" and "Dancing with the Stars" via the Internet. The changes also may make it harder for new online start-ups to compete with television giants, some experts say.
Sources at the FCC say draft rules could open the door for Internet service providers to charge companies such as Apple TV and YouTube for faster delivery of videos, while potentially providing Internet videos of their own or from partners to subscribers for free.
The agency is also blessing pay-as-you-go billing plans, which could relieve Internet users who don't do a lot online. But it could make viewers think twice about watching too many streaming Netflix movies that blow past their monthly data limits.
Comcast's merger with NBC raises additional issues for the FCC - and fears among competitors and consumer groups. How those get resolved will also affect the future look of TV.
With more than 23 million cable subscribers and 16.5 million Internet subscribers, Comcast controls a vast market. Some critics worry that if the cable giant owns NBC, it will have incentives to withhold its content from Web competitors. Those critics are pushing the government to set conditions on the merger to prevent such favoritism and send a signal to the rest of the industry.
"This is a big moment that could make or break online video companies and determine who are the next winners of the Internet video space," said Barbara Van Schewick, a professor of law and computer science at Stanford University.
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| December 17, 2010; 2:45 PM ET
Categories: AT&T, Broadband, Comcast, Consumers, DOJ, FCC, Google, Media, Mobile, Net Neutrality, Online Video
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Posted by: gorak | December 17, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse