What you can and can’t see online and otherwise is the subject of tons of restrictions that are best understood by starting with the belief that somewhere down the line is a gatekeeper that is going to turn you away.
So while we can, indeed, access tons of content, there are other tons we can’t without some caveats and asterisks.
A new bill by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) would change almost all of that. The Consumer Choice in Online Video Act would, among other things, prohibit ISPs from degrading online video offered by competitors. It would tell consumers just how strong their Internet signal really is. It would also seem to allow Aereo the full ability to take and redistribute broadcast TV signals through its farm of miniature antennas, and let content providers serve it up on the Internet without the kind of restrictions cable networks and providers are able to use now to stop it.
It seems to be an extremely consumer friendly piece of legislation. Matt Wood, the policy director for the public interest group Free Press exclaimed in a statement earlier this month, “The Consumer Choice in Online Video Act will move us toward lower prices for the content we want to watch, when and where we want to watch it.... Powerful cable, Internet and broadcast companies shouldn’t be allowed to run roughshod over online video competitors. This bill would keep those incumbents from discriminating against online options, and would help put those alternatives on a more equal footing with traditional providers.”
Even if Washington wasn’t totally worthless and unable to pass virtually any piece of legislation, this bill probably wouldn’t have much chance of becoming law. So if you are holding your breath waiting for this bill to be enacted, you are simply going to die waiting. Rockefeller, the Senate Commerce Committee chairman, seems to be offering it up as his parting gift. He’s retiring from the Senate at the end of next year. Politicians often wait 'til they are the end of the line to finally say what they’ve been thinking all along.
Consumer groups are all behind it, for what that’s worth. Said Timothy Karr, Free Press and SavetheInternetcom campaign director, writing in HuffingtonPost.com, “Cable has a history of blocking apps that deliver video, imposing unnecessary and pricey limits on the amount of data customers can consume and favoring their own video content over that of their rivals. Policymakers with the power to stop these anti-competitive practices have stood by while gatekeepers created new barriers to video competition, stifling innovation and limiting what users can do with their Internet connections. And Congress hasn't been willing to challenge the cable cabal.”
They won’t this time either, but if this bill at least moves the conversation to the next level, the difference could be profound. But changing the status quo isn’t easy, or perhaps, not even possible.
The Website TVNewsCheck.com is a good indicator for entrenched interests. It says Rockefeller’s would “turn the Internet into a full-fledged television medium.” The site’s editor, Harry Jessell, writes, “The Consumer Choice in Online Video Act is a lousy bill for many reasons. For the sake of the online video distributors (OVDs) — that's what the bill calls folks who transmit TV over the Internet — it punishes the traditional TV media that have gotten us this far.” He concludes, “The bill reads as if it were cooked up in the back offices of Intel.”
Eventually, though, a streamlining will happen, and depending on the shape it takes, it will become the ultimate disruption of how media business is done. The Rockefeller bill is a provocative preview.