FCC Chairman Wheeler came to the National Associations of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas on a day many people dread – tax day. But it was a day I had been looking forward to for nearly two months as I would finally be in the same room with him and there stood the minutest of chances that the questions I had on the Net Neutrality rules would finally be answered.
It was an extraordinary outside chance that he would address the Open Internet rules because the audience was going to be a majority of broadcasters with FCC concerns much more focused towards the Incentive Auction that is finally reaching the point of execution in the Fall of 2015. These people want to know that they are going to be protected and that their interests will be secured moving forward. That was clearly going to need to be a focal point for the presentation, but that wasn’t where Wheeler began.
The idea that Wheeler wasted no time getting to was, “I know broadcasters have always been concerned about gatekeepers.” Of course the broadcasting community wants to ensure that their information is going to reach the public; if there was something that might prevent that communication the networks themselves would go out of business because there would be no way to generate revenue and keep the broadcast stream flowing.
Wheeler stated that these Open Internet rules are safeguards for a distribution channel for local news and information, keeping them free from any risk of discrimination from a gatekeeper. It was at this point in his presentation I had to actually tell myself to stay quiet and listen to where he was going. It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the rules that have been approved due to the amount of information that is, or could be argued to be, unprotected by Title II. To openly state that these rules would protect the broadcast channels’ ability to reach their consumers shows me that there is still an issue in the fundamental understanding as to how IP video goes from a broadcasting source to the consumer audience.
It was Wheeler’s “hope” that broadcasters can support what’s been done with the Open Internet rules as it is his belief that there are shared goals between the broadcasting community and the rules when broadcasters want to offer content over the internet. This was exemplified by Wheeler’s return to the well, “Your online futures must be free of gatekeepers.” As the economy increasingly moves to the online marketplace, Wheeler continued, broadcasters and broadcasting content should not be kept off.
The remainder of the keynote presentation went on to discuss the FCC looking to move forward with updating their business practices from the last time changes were made – twenty years ago – and eventually into the progress that has been made towards the pending Incentive Auction. But I want to look at that last sentiment from Wheeler on his belief and hope for the support from the broadcasting community of the Open Internet regulations.
While the end of his presentation was shortly thereafter followed by the announcement that AT&T would be filing its own lawsuit against the FCC regarding the Open Internet rulings, there is a certain emotion in his statement that almost evokes a wish to pit the broadcasting community’s support against the negative response from the tel-com community. Is Wheeler looking for an ally in this fight to help continue to push through the benefits of the Open Internet regulations to the consumers and businesses at large while he simultaneously hopes the courts will fend off the attacks?
There are some benefits of the Open Internet regulations to the broadcasting community. If they are a local broadcaster, their focus would relate more to their market and serving its needs and these new rules offer some content protection from the, often, larger ISPs. While their main focus is still to reach consumers through their televisions, where people are most likely to turn for the detailed information that the apps on their phones can’t give them, that isn’t the only way broadcasters are reaching out to the community.
If these are national broadcasters that are pushing their content through the network to their consumers throughout the country then it might be a different story depending on how you interpret the rules in regards to CDNs. While websites and information will still be protected, the majority of their content (the shows, which may have to travel through a CDN to reach the consumers) might not.
Certainly there is not a gatekeeper between the broadcast networks and the CDNs, but that still leaves the last mile between the CDN and the consumer that is in question as to the protection it receives; at least as I have read and interpreted the rules to have stated.
I want to believe that the FCC, the agency responsible for overseeing how our networks interact between each other and with the consumers, actually understands what their approved rules, which will become the law of the land as of June 12th, will be doing to all industries that use the networks to distribute signals. They have left themselves an out clause in that exceptions and issues can be resolved in a case by case basis, but how much time will they have to resolve issue, after issue, after issue until those new exceptions and alterations create a new loophole for a lawsuit and we go through this process all over again.
The FCC has crammed the regulation into place because there was not an easier alternative and, regardless of which side of the AV industry you live on – commercial, residential, or broadcast – we are in a position where we desperately need those overseeing the network regulations to understand that this isn’t like anything that came before it and they cannot treat it as such. So while Chairman Wheeler and his fellow FCC Commissioners have effectively put a band aid on a broken leg, there is still much to be done to make the networks a fair and open place for all that use them. The downside is it will likely be up to future generations of FCC Commissioners to resolve the mess that is seemingly appearing today.