Cable operators who feared that the FCC might mandate a la carte TV pricing, or restrict companies’ ability to charge broadband customers based on how much they use the Internet, probably felt comforted by comments that two of the three current FCC members made today at the annual Cable Show. Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel indicated that she’s reluctant to promote a la carte — a key part of a bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain. “Consumer practices are changing,” Rosenworcel says. “The ways that they access content are different today than they were even a year ago.” As a result, if there’s pressure for change it’s “going to be driven by consumers and not necessarily by legislation or regulation.” Her Republican colleague, Ajit Pai, added that people may be wasting their breath if they talk about regulations that might affect whether broadband providers base their pricing on how much bandwidth a consumer uses. “It’s a commonly accepted aspect of the consumer experience in this country in virtually every other field — the more you consume of something the more you should pay,” he says. What’s more, “the FCC’s authority here is relatively limited.”
The commissioners for the most part spoke in broad terms about policy instead of addressing specific controversies head on. For example, Rosenworcel sidestepped a question about the legality of Aereo, the Barry Diller-backed service that streams over-the-air broadcasts — and that TV networks say violates their copyrights. Cases against Aereo and a similar service from Alki David’s FilmOn are “squarely in the court,” she says, predicting that “we’ll see further litigation.” The verdicts “will directly impact” broadcasters’ ability to demand retransmission consent payments from pay TV providers. Pai also danced around a question about an appeals court ruling that overturned the FCC’s order for Comcast to carry the Tennis Channel on the same terms that it carries similar sports services that it owns.
The FCC has just three commissioners since last month when Chairman Julius Genachowski and GOP Commissioner Robert McDowell resigned. The Senate Commerce Committee plans a hearing on June 18 to consider President Obama’s nominee for chairman, investor and former lobbyist Tom Wheeler. The confirmation process likely will be put on hold, though, until Senate Republicans propose a candidate the president could pick to replace McDowell.