Feds make path for Internet television

Federal regulators took a big step on Friday to allow companies to offer television packages through the Internet.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed new rules expanding its definition for TV programming systems that would allow companies to sell new types of video subscriptions online that go above and beyond current offerings by Netflix or Hulu.

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Instead, the FCC proposal could allow companies to offer multiple live, streaming channels to viewers through their laptop or tablet, instead of with a cable or satellite TV subscription.

“Our proposal will mean more alternatives for consumers beyond the traditional cable or satellite bundle, including giving consumers more options to buy the programming they want,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement as the proposal was released.

Specifically, the rules would give companies operating over the Web or any other method of communication the same rights to buy rights to TV programming that companies such as Comcast and DirecTV currently enjoy.

Dish Network, Verizon and other companies have planned new online Web video systems which would be helped by the new regulatory scheme. The plan might also lend a hand to companies like Aereo, which allowed people to watch broadcast TV channels over the Web before it was shuttered by a Supreme Court decision earlier this year.

The cable industry has been reluctant to back the notion, and seemed to threaten continued opposition on Friday.

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association said in a statement that does “not believe” that the FCC’s stance “can be squared with the plan language of the law,” and plans to “identify many of the difficult policy issues that such a conclusion would raise.” 

“We look forward to participating in this proceeding to ensure that any rules deemed necessary in today’s competitive video distribution marketplace are fairly applied to all,” it added.

The FCC’s three Democrats voted in favor of the motion, while the two Republicans voted merely to concur.

In a statement, Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai said he worried that extending the existing rules could hamper innovation online.

“I am also worried that this proposal will pave the way for more comprehensive regulation of Internet-based services,” he added.