FCC boss Wheeler clears way for internet TV and cable unbundling

Wheeler says web services no different from broadcast channels

Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler has outlined a plan which could lead to a change in the way Americans pay for television and internet services.

The FCC boss said in a late Tuesday blog post that internet TV services should be afforded the same access rights to network programming as satellite TV providers. Under such a system, network operators would be required to offer their stations to web services just as they do satellite TV providers.

Wheeler said that the access rules helped contribute to the home satellite TV boom in the 1990s and could have similar benefits for internet video services, allowing them to access and offer shows that had previously been restricted to cable or satellite TV services.

"What could these over-the-top video providers (OTTs) supply to consumers? Many different kinds of multichannel video packages designed for different tastes and preferences," Wheeler said.

"A better ability for a consumer to order the channels he or she wants to watch."

Such a policy could also have a profound effect on the way subscribers pay for television services. Currently, users pay for bundles of channels whether they want them or not. The policy allows for the more popular networks to subsidize the less popular channels on the service.

Should internet television services indeed be allowed to access popular content, cable and satellite providers could be forced to unlock their bundles and allow users to access channels "a la carte", only paying for the channels they want. This could lower the barrier for premium TV networks which currently have to be bought through a pricey subscription bundle.

Premium TV staple HBO is testing out such a policy with its 'Go' streaming platform. The company has said that it will make the streaming video service available to all customers rather than just those who subscribe to HBO on their home TV package. ®

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