So how should Congress go about revising two-decade-old regulation of the television industry?
Like others delivering testimony to a House Communications Subcommittee Wednesday, Dish Network chairman Charlie Ergen provided small, agenda-laden pieces of a larger, dysfunctionally competitive picture.
But speaking in front of a House subcommittee convened to discuss the future of television, he did seem sure that his company’s controversial new digital video recorder feature that automatically skips ads on broadcast network recordings is good for the nation’s children.
“It means kids now have a choice whether to see commercials for fast food and alcohol,” Ergen told lawmakers.
Also read: The future of TV isn’t TV, it’s broadband
When he was not defending Dish’s new Auto Hop DVR feature, Ergen conveyed his hope that the Federal Communications Commission would revise rules on how satellite video licenses can be used for terrestrial mobile broadband.
“We want to provide consumers with the choice in services and providers that they seek,” he said. “But we can’t get started until the FCC releases updated rules governing how our satellite licenses can be used for terrestrial mobile broadband. Given the overwhelming support of the comments received to date, we hope that the FCC will act, and finalize the new rules by the end of the summer.”
He also took aim at broadcast re-transmission fees, which he said have increased dramatically without providing any real benefit to consumers.
”From where we sit, the broadcasters cling to the status quo instead of meeting consumer demand and embracing new technologies and business models,” Ergen said.
As for how Ergen’s myriad agendas, and those of others who delivered testimony Wednesday, moved the ball forward is tough to say.
As it was in April, when the Senate Commerce Committee tried to address the same broad regulatory topics, the core issue underpinning the TV industry’s future remains broadband providers controlling access to content, through caps, specialized offerings and deals.
And on several occasions, Wednesday’s testimony veered into that area, with both Jim Funk, senior VP of product management for Roku, and Netflix general counsel David Hyman noting the lightning-rod case of Comcast providing an exemption to its broadband cap for those using its Streampix video service.
Is it fair for a company like Comcast, which owns content and pipes, to give itself such an advantage?
Speaking for the TV industry’s pay TV incumbency, Michael Powell, president of National Cable TV Association, credited his industry with building a broadband infrastructure that now reaches 93 percent of U.S. consumers.
If the cable industry were anti-competitive, he asked, how could the video streaming business grow by 80 percent since 2008?