While the much-discussed March 2015 decision by the FCC upheld the idea of Net Neutrality, there is a change taking place at the local level that cable providers are hailing as a victory for streamlining the distribution of content to their customers. For the last twenty-two years, local, city, and state committees have possessed oversight of the basic programming packages provided by the cable companies. Now, after a unanimous 5-0 ruling by the FCC to remove this restriction, the providers will be able to determine all the details of their programming packages without having to receive the approval of local authorities.
Up until now, the oversight provided by the local committees as part of the 1992 Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act not only dictated which channels could not be excluded from the basic programming packages, but also how much those packages could cost. The new FCC ruling determined that the regulation was no longer necessary because of changes in the market that have created an elevated level of competition for the cable providers, in particular through the expanding footprint of services provided by companies like DirecTV and Dish. Another factor in the FCC’s decision was that since 2013, 220 of 224 requests for exemption from local rate-setting restrictions were approved. With such a high success rate for receiving exemptions, the FCC believes that it is simply removing an unnecessary level of red tape.
Cable providers state that with the removal of uniform package requirements, they will be able to present consumers with a variety of service and channel packages, ultimately providing more choices for service packages that don’t include the higher cost premium channels. At the same time the cable providers have cheered the latest FCC decision, broadcasters have been critical of the claims that satellite companies provide reliable enough competition to all parts of the United States to justify this victory for the cable providers. As a result of this rule change, and contrary to the cable companies’ claims, there is a fear among broadcasters that basic TV station signals will now be placed in costly service tiers, ultimately lowering the viewership of local programming.
The concern over the FCC ruling is not confined to just local regions, but also the halls of power in Washington D.C. A representative for the National Association of Broadcasters remains perplexed why the one defense available to safeguard consumers from skyrocketing prices has been removed so easily. Furthermore, members of Congress have questioned the FCC’s ruling, stating that this decision will result in increased prices and fewer channel choices for residents in rural and remote areas.