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Senate Bill Takes Aim at ISP Control of Online Video Streaming

13 Nov, 2013 By: Erik Gruenwedel

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has submitted a bill in Congress that would regulate how Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can influence the flow of online video by third party service such as Netflix and YouTube.

Called the “Consumer Choice in Online Video Act,” the 63-page draft underscores the current ISP landscape, including such tactics as data caps, usage-based billing, and so-called “peering agreements,” among others issues.

Peering agreements between ISPs and over-the-top video service such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Redbox Instant and Hulu Plus, involve enabling the flow of traffic between separate networks. Such agreements often require technology upgrades to keep the flow and quality of video high between networks. Failure by an ISP to adequately safeguard the flow of traffic can lead to degradations of video quality and buffering issues.

"It shall be unlawful for a designated Internet service provider to engage in unfair methods of competition or unfair or deceptive acts or practices, the purpose or effect of which are to hinder significantly or to prevent an online video distributor from providing video programming to a consumer," according to the bill.

The FCC’s current “Open Internet Order” exempts government oversight on peering agreements.

Rockerfeller’s bill would also prohibit ISPs affiliated with multichannel video program distributors such as cable, satellite and telecommunications, from discriminating against unaffiliated content and distributors in its exercise of control over consumers broadband connections.

"No video programming vendor that has made available its video programming to consumers online may restrict access to that online video programming for a subscriber of a [MVPD] or its affiliate, or an online video distributor or its affiliate, during the time that vendor is involved in a dispute with such distributor," states the bill.

Passage of Rockerfeller’s bill could follow the tortured path of John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) bill (“Television Consumer Freedom Act”) attempt to unbundle MVPD channels offered to consumers. That bill has languished thus far.

Meanwhile, in Canada, there is government action that seeks to force MVPDs to unbundle pay-TV channels.

"We don't think it's right for Canadians to have to pay for bundled television channels that they don't watch. We want to unbundle television channels and allow Canadians to pick and pay the specific television channels that they want," Canada Industry Minister James Moore said in an October TV appearance, according to a Reuters report.

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