Dem bill promises TV revolution: Only pay for what you watch

Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) proposed legislation on Tuesday aimed at letting television viewers live the dream of only paying for the video content they watch.

Rockefeller said his Consumer Choice in Online Video Act, S. 1680, would help create that viewing paradise by harnessing the power of choice offered by online video. He said the revolution in online video could eventually help free cable and satellite subscribers from paying for hundreds of channels they never use.

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"Even though consumers have at their fingertips hundreds of channels of programming, most homes watch very few of those channels and would prefer to have more choice in what they pay for each month," Rockefeller said Tuesday.

"My legislation aims to enable the ultimate a la carte — to give consumers the ability to watch the programming they want to watch, when they want to watch it, how they want to watch it, and pay only for what they actually watch."

To reach that goal, Rockefeller said the law must be changed to ensure that companies offering online video services have access to the same content that cable and satellite providers offer. He predicted that online video "promises to become the video delivery platform that can truly bring consumer-centric video services to the marketplace."

But Rockefeller said cable and satellite providers are "video marketplace incumbents" that have put up barriers that make it harder for online video services to buy and distribute programming.

Specifically, the bill notes that online video providers are dependent on Internet service providers. It says ISPs affiliated with video programming distributors "have an increased incentive to degrade the delivery of, or block entirely, traffic from the websites of other online video distributors, or speed up or favor access to the content and aggregation websites of their affiliates, because online video distributors pose a threat to those affiliates' video programming distribution businesses."

The legislation would make it unlawful for content distributors to use "unfair methods of competition" aimed at preventing online video distributors from providing programming to consumers. It would make it illegal for cable and satellite operators to create disincentives in contracts for vendors to sell content to online companies, and would allow the Federal Communications Commission to enforce this and other prohibitions.

The FCC would also have to decide what other steps can be taken to "foster the ability of online video distributors to gain access to video programming, offer innovative services, and compete with multichannel video programming distributors."

These changes have the potential to force cable and satellite providers to offer their own a la carte programming. But Rockefeller predicted that online video would become the preferred choice of viewers, in part because viewers are increasingly less picky about where the content originates.

"Consumers clearly have an appetite for online video and the choice and flexibility it affords, and innovative companies have risen to tap into that demand," he said.

"Consumers do not really care whether they access their favorite video programming through a traditional cable line, fiber, satellite, or broadband wireless technology."