Broadcasters seek FCC regulation of streaming providers

Broadcasters in the United States are now petitioning the FCC and Congress to regulate streaming platforms like YouTube TV, potentially driving up costs for consumers. You can learn more in my latest video.

At issue here is the retransmission negotiation dynamics between broadcasters and streaming providers. Unlike cable services, streaming services currently negotiate content fees directly with networks rather than local affiliates. This means local channels like your ABC or NBC affiliates must go through their national networks for re-transmission fees, which they believe sells them short. By contrast, federal law requires that cable providers negotiate directly with local broadcasters.

Even without this regulation the costs of streaming TV services have surged over the years, very much in line with the increase cost of cable. Take YouTube TV, for instance; what started as a $35 monthly service now costs $73. This hike is largely attributed to the rising costs of content—networks charge more, so streaming services must adjust their fees accordingly.

Opposing the local broadcasters are the streaming providers who have joined forces with the broadcast networks. Both sides have created astroturfed websites complete with .org URLs. The broadcasters founded the “Coalition for Local News” in an effort to appeal to members of Congress who like to see their faces on TV, and the streamer/network alliance launched their consumer focused “Preserve Viewer Choice Coalition.”

With both sides poised to fight fiercely, a negotiated compromise might be the path forward, though this, too, will likely lead to higher costs for consumers. The looming question is whether consumers will reach a tipping point, opting to cut not just the cable cord but the streaming one as well.

No, the FCC Did Not Increase Your Internet Speed.. But they do want to regulate it.

Recently, the FCC made headlines with an announcement that ostensibly seemed to require an imminent increase in internet speeds for American consumers. Yet, the reality is far more nuanced and requires a deeper understanding of what broadband means in a regulatory context, and how the FCC’s declaration has no teeth in a largely unregulated marketplace.

In my latest video, we dive into why the FCC made this declaration and some of the politics driving it.

In the commissions first adopted broadband assessment since 2015, they raised the standard for what should be considered high speed internet to 100 megabits per second downstream and 20 megabits per second upstream. The previous definition was 20 megabits down and 3 megabits up.

But this report is really more about tracking the rollout of broadband infrastructure in the United States, something the FCC is mandated to do per the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Congress set a goal of getting every American connected to broadband that year, and despite billions of taxpayer dollars going to telecommunications companies over the decades, nearly 45 million people still lack access to the minimum broadband specification in their communities. Or do they?

The FCC report excluded satellite services, even though most of the areas not covered by wireline broadband are within SpaceX Starlink’s service area. Starlink’s Internet service also meets the FCC’s newly defined minimum specifications for a broadband connection. The FCC’s two Republican commissioners voted against adopting the report because of this exclusion.

In their dissenting opinions, the Republican commissioners argue that by excluding Starlink and thus making the nation’s broadband rollout appear stalled, the Democrats on the commission are laying a foundation by which they can impose heavier regulation on Internet Service providers. This is because the 1996 telecommunication law requires the FCC to “take immediate action to accelerate deployment” if the agency issues a negative report on broadband access.

And the FCC is doing just that. On a similar 3-2 vote in November, the FCC began the process of re-classifying ISPs under Title II rules. The FCC previously moved ISPs into the Title II category during the Obama administration over net neutrality concerns which was later reversed by the Trump administration.

But Title II regulation can go far deeper than just net neutrality, including regulating pricing, requiring ISPs to provide access to remote areas, and much more. The Republicans argue that the market will take care of these things and no further regulation is needed. The Democrats say that after three decades of “light touch” regulation the broadband rollout has not achieved the 1996 goal of universal access.

But is it necessary to apply Title II everywhere? I think a more balanced approach is needed. In my area we went from one provider (Comcast) to now having five with potentially more on the way – all meeting and exceeding the minimum broadband standards with no data caps. Do we need regulation here? Likely not.

But there are parts of the country that still only have one provider that may not meet the broadband standard, applies expensive data caps on service, and holds back infrastructure investments. Perhaps regulating markets like this and lifting regulations when competitors enter those markets might be a smarter approach.

And it may not be necessary for Title II to apply either. In the 1996 law, the FCC has the ability to impose price caps, remove regulatory red-tape that prevents competitors from accessing pole attachments along with other regulatory powers to encourage competition and market choice. It is not clear how much of those powers the FCC has exercised over the years.

I’m sure there will be more to come on this topic! Stay tuned.

ATSC 3 DRM is Worse Than We Thought!

I’ve been deeply involved in raising awareness about the broadcast industry’s intentions to encrypt free over-the-air television. Recent developments have shown that the situation with DRM encryption is eve worse than I initially thought. You can see more in my latest video.

Our collective efforts to inform the FCC about these concerns have been fruitful. Since my last update, the number of comments and filings on the FCC’s official transition docket has significantly increased. This surge in participation is heartening, but there’s still a long way to go. I urge everyone to continue voicing their concerns.

In a positive turn of events, the FCC has delayed the official transition to ATSC 3.0 until at least June 2027. This gives us more time to make our case and ensure that when the transition does occur, it doesn’t come with undue restrictions.

However, there’s concerning news on the horizon. Despite promises from Pearl TV, the organization behind this initiative, it seems that even certified devices can’t decrypt DRM protected content. This revelation comes as Silicondust, the makers of the HDHomerun, now have certified firmware for their hardware and apps – yuet those apps cannot decrypt the DRM content.

This directly contradicts Pearl TV’s earlier statements in June that certified devices would be able to decrypt broadcasts:

Thankfully, the security layer already included in NEXTGEN TV is being enabled now and is supported by all of the television manufacturers selling NEXTGEN TV-certified receivers.

A recent article by Jared Newman from Tech Hive further delved into the intricacies of this DRM. Shockingly, broadcasters could potentially delete DVR recordings from your own server after a certain period of time or block the recording of content outright. And if you’re not using a television connected directly to an antenna an Internet connection will be required to watch live television – that includes smart TVs using an app, tablets, computers and other devices.

Additionally, there could be restrictions that effectively prevent out-of-home viewing from network tuners. This means that every time you watch television or a recording, you will have to disclose your physical location.

The industry’s justification for these restrictions revolves around concerns of copyright violations. However, it’s evident that the real motive might be to protect retransmission fees they collect from cable and streaming service subscribers. With many consumers cutting the cord due to exorbitant fees, broadcasters seem to be taking measures to protect their revenue streams.

The essence of free over-the-air TV must be preserved if broadcasters wish to continue using the public airwaves. Viewers shouldn’t be burdened with unnecessary limitations in an effort to force them into paying exorbitant subscription fees. It’s crucial to continue voicing our concerns and ensuring that the public’s best interests are upheld.

I’ll be back with more on this soon including a new effort we’ll be undertaking to let the industry know we’re not going to stand for this!

ATSC 3 DRM Update – We’re on the FCC Docket!

Last week, I asked you to submit your thoughts to the FCC about why encrypting free over the air TV is a bad thing, and many of you have done so. We’ve seen some significant progress, and I want to share that with you in my latest video.

If you’re new to this topic, I recommend checking out my playlist with previous videos on this topic. The issue at hand is that broadcasters in the United States are encrypting their signals on the new ATSC 3 broadcast standard. This limits how you can watch and record television, essentially confining you to a television connected to a box, rather than the freedom we’re used to with our video consumption.

Here’s the latest on the campaign:

Our petition on change.org is nearing 7,500 signatures, and the momentum is still going strong. However, the most significant development is the increase in submissions to the FCC docket. Last week, the docket had 1,634 submissions. As of this morning, we have over 2,812 submissions, most of which are from concerned citizens like you. This is fantastic progress, and I want to thank everyone who has made submissions. If you haven’t yet, please consider doing so.

In terms of news, another network in my home state of Connecticut has joined the encryption club. WVIT-TV, Connecticut’s NBC affiliate, is now encrypting their broadcasts. They did this right in the middle of a recent severe weather event!

In other news, the company responsible for certifying devices for encryption, Pearl TV, has certified the Zinwell tuning box – the first box they’ve approved since rolling out encryption over a year ago. However, this box only allows you to watch the encrypted signals on a single television, with no recording or in-home streaming capabilities. And its price remains a mystery.

But there is some movement happening on the network tuner side. HDHomeRun devices have received a new firmware update that includes their Next-Gen TV certification release candidate. However, this doesn’t mean you can start watching encrypted channels just yet. The powers that be have to certify the HDHomerun to be able to decrypt content. Once they get approval, you’ll likely be able to watch these channels, but DVR capability is still a big question.

Unfortunately, this certification process and the ongoing cost of remaining compliant is likely out of reach for these groups, which could stifle innovation and competition in the cord cutting space.

We need to keep the pressure on. If you haven’t already, please consider submitting your thoughts to the FCC docket!