By Fred Campbell
Americans don’t expect government to be perfect, but they have a right to expect basic fairness. When mismanaged banks are deemed “too big to fail” while ordinary Americans lose their homes to foreclosure, people get frustrated. A lot of dissatisfaction with Washington is built on the sense that the deck is stacked in favor of a select few.
A recent example is the unnecessary proposal for new TV rules being considered at the Federal Communications Commission.
For most people, the idea that we need new federal regulations to give us more choice in TV is ridiculous on its face. From Netflix to Roku boxes to Apple TV, we have more ways to find and watch TV than ever – from wall-size projection screens to smartphones.
The quality and diversity of programming has exploded, too. Diverse voices and stories are stronger than ever on our television screens. From “Modern Family” to “The Wire,” the quality and diversity of video storytelling is simply light years beyond anything we saw during the “big three” network era. The biggest problem for many viewers with TV today is “not enough time to watch.”
Yet FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has proposed a new rule (called “AllVid”) that would force existing TV companies to hand over their complete programming libraries for tech companies to use in competing services and devices of their own without negotiating or paying for the rights. You can see why many observers call it a giveaway to Big Tech – just the kind of unfair government thumb on the scale Americans have grown so sick of.
It’s a giveaway tech companies don’t need. Nothing stops any company from negotiating for programming rights and launching its own video service or streaming device today, just as Apple TV, HBO Go, Netflix and dozens more have already done.
Yet now the FCC thinks we need new rules for video to jump-start consumer choice? That simply makes no sense.
The disconnect suggests the real reason for these regulations is something far more Washingtonian – like pleasing political allies and propping up favored constituencies – than making markets work.
The AllVid rules would cover a lot more than just devices that are used to watch video programming – they would rework an entire segment of our economy, reshaping or overturning a complex system of programming deals and licensing arrangements, privacy regulations, copyright issues and consumer protection laws.
Americans deserve better than this. Government shouldn’t change the rules in markets that are working. The FCC should reject the unnecessary and harmful AllVid rules.
Fred Campbell is a former chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau at the FCC and wireless legal adviser to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.