FCC's Copps: Fox threatened net neutrality

Open Internet rules under consideration by the FCC would not apply nondiscrimination expectations to content providers and applications companies, such as search engines. It would apply the regulations to cable and phone companies who deliver Internet traffic. 

Copps also called on the FCC to have a greater role in resolving the programming dispute, which has left around 3 million Cablevision subscribers in the New York area without access to Fox TV channels. He said the agency has, up to this point, interpreted its role "cautiously." FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has called the corporations and has made efforts to educate consumers about the issue. 

Copps thinks the FCC should have a greater role than that.

"The FCC’s role has been limited. That’s partly due to the statute under which we operate, which generally confines our role to encouraging ‘good faith’ negotiations between the private parties. We have interpreted this charge very cautiously," he said. "But the FCC is a consumer protection agency and, if the Fox-Cablevision dispute proves anything, it is that consumers are clearly not being protected."

The FCC should scrutinize whether "good faith" negotiations are taking place and should "move promptly to protect consumers" if they are not. 

"What, indeed, does ‘good faith’ mean in the dog-eat-dog world of big media?" he added. 

Copps also criticized the regulations that govern negotiations such as the Cablevision-Fox dispute. Cable and satellite companies have called for an update so broadcasters do not have the power to pull their content and leave channels blank. 

"What we are dealing with here is a fast-changing media landscape with the big players maneuvering to see how they can create new business models that will give them the upper hand over their rivals going forward," he said.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) has suggested legislation that would make it harder for broadcasters to pull their content, but would still preserve that option. 

Broadcasters argue that disputes such as Fox-Cablevision are uncommon, and that the current system usually works. 

His full statement is below.

STATEMENT OF COMMISSIONER MICHAEL J. COPPS ON THE CONTINUING FOX-CABLEVISION IMPASSE 

“Retransmission consent developed in another world in a vastly different media environment. The idea was to ensure that consumers could receive broadcast programs on cable and to protect both small broadcasters and small cable companies from being run over by the big guys. Now, in too many instances, retransmission consent has degenerated into a fight between huge monied interests to see who can milk who the most — and consumers are left holding an empty pail. What we are dealing with here is a fast-changing media landscape with the big players maneuvering to see how they can create new business models that will give them the upper hand over their rivals going forward.

“The FCC’s role has been limited. That’s partly due to the statute under which we operate, which generally confines our role to encouraging ‘good faith’ negotiations between the private parties. We have interpreted this charge very cautiously. But the FCC is a consumer protection agency and, if the Fox-Cablevision dispute proves anything, it is that consumers are clearly not being protected. I believe the Commission should take a very serious look at whether ‘good faith’ negotiations are indeed occurring. What, indeed, does ‘good faith’ mean in the dog-eat-dog world of big media? If such talks are not taking place, we should move promptly to protect consumers.

“We must also understand that these seemingly ‘old media’ debates can be used against the new media of the digital age, too. For a broadcaster to pull programming from the Internet for a cable company’s subscribers, as apparently happened here, directly threatens the open Internet. This was yet another instance revealing how vulnerable the Internet is to discrimination and gate-keeper control absent clear rules of the road.”