On October 19, US Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), along with 19 other Democratic Senators, sent a letter to the FCC on the virtual MVPD (vMVPD) issue, urging them to refresh the record on the 2014 docket looking at whether to categorize video streaming services as MVPDs for purposes of compensating local television stations.  As you may recall, Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA) wrote a similar letter in June to FCC Chair Rosenworcel – to which she has yet to receive a response.  This letter is a forceful follow-up to that original Cantwell letter. Please see below for the news release from Senator Luján’s office.
 

Luján Leads Colleagues Urging FCC Improve Access to Local Journalism

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) led 19 colleagues in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging the Commission to improve access to local media on streaming platforms. Current law and Commission rules state that traditional cable and satellite networks must work directly with a local television station before broadcasting local news, sports, and other programming. However, linear streaming services over the internet are not required to negotiate directly with local television stations.

Streaming services have a large and growing portion of the video media market as consumers cut-the-cord and make the switch from traditional television providers like cable and satellite TV to streaming services over the internet. In 2014, nearly 9 in 10 households subscribed to cable or satellite. This year, fewer than half of families subscribe. As consumers show their preference for the freedom that streaming services provide, it is critical for Congress to ensure continued access to local journalism.

“Internet-based streaming services now have a sizable portion of the video programming distribution market – and this is only expected to grow as streaming companies actively urge consumers to switch from traditional television providers like cable and satellite TV to virtual offerings and other video streaming services. The shift from broadcast, cable, and satellite to streaming has profound impact on existing laws, regulations, and agreements that have been foundational in support of public safety and access to local news,” wrote the Senators.

The Senators continued, “In light of these marketplace changes, we urge the Commission to examine the video marketplace and seriously consider how it can ensure the viability of local broadcast stations and promote localism.”

“Broadcasters play a vital role in providing verified and factual information to the public about their local community and events taking place around the world,” said National Association of Broadcasters President and CEO Curtis LeGeyt. “Though the television marketplace has changed dramatically in recent years, viewers still expect and deserve access to their local TV news stations – no matter the platform. We are grateful to Sen. Luján and his Senate colleagues for urging the FCC to examine the impact of streaming on viewer access to local broadcast stations by refreshing the record in the virtual MVPD proceeding. This builds on the leadership and correspondence earlier this year from Chair Cantwell who has also urged the FCC to examine this issue. We are grateful that these senators are committed to ensuring the public’s continued access to the critical local news and public safety information local TV stations provide.”

In addition to Senator Luján, this letter is signed by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Michael Bennett (D-Colo.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Angus King (I-Maine), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren, (D-Mass.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).
Full text of the letter is available HERE and below:

Dear Chairwoman Rosenworcel, Commissioner Carr, Commissioner Starks, Commissioner Simington, and Commissioner Gomez:

We write today out of concern for the future of the media market and our constituents’ ability to access broadcasters’ unique locally-focused content on streaming platforms, otherwise known as virtual multichannel video programming distributor (vMVPDs).

Under current law and Commission rules, a traditional cable system or other multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) must gain consent from a local television station before retransmitting its signal. This retransmission consent system was the centerpiece of Congress’s commitment in the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act to providing local television stations the ability to offer American viewers more locally-focused programming. In 2014, the Commission initiated a proceeding to evaluate the potential modernization of the definition of MVPD to include streaming platforms that offer linear multichannel programming. Virtual MVPDs are not subject to the same regulatory requirements as traditional distributors, including with respect to retransmission consent and requirements to negotiate directly with local television stations for the retransmission of their programming.

Meanwhile, nearly a decade since the public comment period closed, there has been a monumental shift in the marketplace and the way people access video content. Internet-based streaming services now have a sizable portion of the video programming distribution market – and this is only expected to grow as streaming companies actively urge consumers to switch from traditional television providers like cable and satellite TV to virtual offerings and other video streaming services. The shift from broadcast, cable, and satellite to streaming has profound impact on existing laws, regulations, and agreements that have been foundational in support of public safety and access to local news.

In light of these marketplace changes, we urge the Commission to examine the video marketplace and seriously consider how it can ensure the viability of local broadcast stations and promote localism. As the expert agency, the Commission should be developing a record and recommendations to ensure that our regulatory system – which has enabled a thriving locally-focused broadcast system that is the envy of the world – is not undermined by the explosion of new technologies that were not foreseen even a mere decade ago. Accordingly, we urge you to refresh the aging, unclosed record from the 2014 proceeding by seeking new public comments to provide updated video marketplace information.

Thank you for your attention to this important issue, and we look forward to your prompt reply.