Rosenworcel: Congress Needs to Decide Legal Status of Video Streamers

Nov 30, 2023

By Ted Hearn, Editor of Policyband

Washington, D.C., Nov. 30, 2023 – Streaming services like YouTube TV and Sling TV don’t have to worry about becoming the legal equivalent of cable TV or satellite TV companies any time soon through action by the Federal Communications Commission.

That was that the implicit message that FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel left with Capitol Hill on Thursday when she was pressed for a regulatory update on the video issue by the leader of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“I think fundamentally this is an issue where those who want us to act are going to have to come to Congress,” Rosenworcel said in testimony before the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee.

Many TV station owners – led by the National Association of Broadcasters – are seeking new FCC rules that would classify steaming services that distribute local TV stations as multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) – the FCC’s term for cable TV and satellite TV companies.

If the FCC adopted this change, the streamers would need to negotiate carriage deals with the local TV stations directly. Now, the Big 4 networks do the bargaining and share the proceeds with their ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox affiliates. But the affiliates think they could grow their revenue more if they could negotiate directly.

House Energy & Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers sought a commitment from Rosenworcel that she would defer to Congress on this video classification issue by not reopening an FCC proceeding that has lain dormant since 2014.

“So just as I’ve said before, I think that our duties and authority in this area are constrained by the 1984 Cable Act and the 1992 Cable Act, which contemplated a physical facility for the delivery of video communications,” she said. "That’s why I think the request to incorporate virtual service providers is complex [and] does not fit neatly into the law.”

In a comment she didn’t fully explain, Rosenworcel said the FCC is “combing over the record in trying to understand adjacent copyright issues to figure out a way forward." She also said she believed that some her colleagues at the FCC were open to reviewing the 2014 record.

Although Rosenworcel controls the FCC's agenda, she is facing pressure to move away from her position.

In June, Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., sent a letter to the FCC urging the agency to take a new look at whether streamers should have the same legal status as cable TV and satellite TV companies.

Last month, 20 Democratic Senators sent a letter to the five FCC Commissioners to echo Cantwell’s request, saying the FCC needed to “ensure the viability of local broadcast stations and promote localism.”