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FCC seeks tiny ivi internet broadcaster comments on Comcast content deals

Back in September we highlighted the predicament of ivi TV, a US company which countersued a bunch of big media firms in the US, after getting cease a

By PETER WHITE

Published: 18 November, 2010

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Back in September we highlighted the predicament of ivi TV, a US company which countersued a bunch of big media firms in the US, after getting cease and desist orders from them. It had been broadcasting free to air TV content over the internet, claiming that the US “must carry” rules should apply to it, just as much as cable.

In fact they don’t, simply because the must carry programming rules took years to be reached and were due to the arrival of first cable operators and then satellite operators, who effectively did just the same as ivi, and went ahead and rebroadcast free to air programs. The must carry regulations were brought in by the FCC to make them legal and set up payments to broadcasters for the use of their channels.

Right now the FCC does not regulate the internet, although it might if it pushes through its Title II approach to regulating ISPs. There are alternatives to this happening. The cablecos and the telcos want a light regulatory touch and have offered to be self-regulating, other lawmakers have proposed, and had rejected, light touch net neutrality regulation, but more may be proposed.

But the entire ivi TV issue may be big enough to spark off another change in the legal standing of the internet. The company has gone on record saying that the FCC has asked it about contracts which cable networks have with cable operators, in particular Comcast, which restrict networks from putting their content on the internet.

The ivi CEO Todd Weaver has already found himself being interviewed by the FCC over the restrictive clauses in the Comcast contracts, and could become a staunch ally here. Comcast has many cable networks in a bind, that is the companies which produce entire channels from original content. It has insisted on having these internet clauses, from periods when these TV channels were looking for carriage on Comcast and other cable operator networks. It is these very clauses which prevent most cable networks looking for their own internet partnerships, and instead gives Comcast and other major pay TV operators the opportunity to allow these networks to make internet revenue only by sharing advertising with them on their TV Everywhere strategies.

In other words right now, if someone wanted to do what ivi wants, and use the internet for pay OTT, the cable operators can stop them doing anything more exciting than re-broadcasting free to air programming. So as ivi, which is charging around $5 a month for service, begins to develop and wants to sell cable networks, it has found they are all legally tied up. The FCC could potentially bring an anti-trust suit against Comcast and others to prevent it using the type of prohibitive contracts that it already has in place.

Ivi insists that it pays for its content, both through a copyright payment for the free to air channels, but also it is prepared to pay directly per customer to take on more channels.

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