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Local broadcasters push Congress for streaming reform

WASHINGTON — A nationwide group of local broadcasters are asking the government to revisit federal laws so that television stations like this one can continue to provide you, the viewer, all the important local coverage you’ve come to depend on. But not everyone is on board. A coalition of TV networks and streaming companies is telling the Federal Communications Commission that any change to the rules could pass price hikes on to viewers.

At issue is local channels wanting to negotiate directly to distribute content over streaming live TV. It’s a battle over control of how these streaming deals get done, where the money goes, and how and where you get your local news and programming. There’s no debating TV viewing habits have changed over the past 10 years. Back in 2014, there were less than 200,000 subscribers getting live TV digitally at home, according to research group Moffet Nathanson. It’s the last time the F.C.C. debated rules around whether streaming services should be required to negotiate directly with local stations to carry those channels. That’s what cable and satellite companies are required to do.

Now nearly 17 million homes subscribe to live streaming services. Local broadcasters say the government needs to fix a loophole and allow those same negotiations with live digital TV providers like YouTube TVor Hulu live TV. Local broadcasters say those negotiations are dominated by the national TV networks.

Mike Meara is with the Coalition for Local News, a group made up of 600 local broadcast stations, including our parent company Cox Media Group.

They believe getting cut out of negotiations on live streaming TV is going to impact your local news station’s ability to keep you safe and informed. Protecting communities with local severe weather alerts and major breaking news coverage are top priorities. “The primary goal is to protect local journalism and localism in our markets,” said Meara. “So if this is threatened, resources get threatened, coverage gets threatened, and the consumer loses out in the local market,” he said.

But a group of entertainment and streaming providers called the Preserve Viewer Choice Coalition says that’s not the case. They don’t want the F.C.C. to revisit or change the rules.

“The only possible result you could see is increased costs for consumers and substantially less choice,” said Bryce Harlow, with Preserve Viewer Choice Coalition. They say more government regulations will hurt viewers.

“The viewer experience online is one that they uniformly enjoy, so there’s no reason to change that,” said Harlow.

Congress is also weighing in. Some lawmakers are pushing the F.C.C. to update the rules. “Make sure local broadcasters get fair value for the content they’re providing as we change over to a streaming media landscape,” said Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell from Washington. But at a hearing in June, the F.C.C. Commissioner said it’s on Congress to update laws from the 1980′s. “I think it’s fair to assume that none of us in this room were contemplating the kind of streaming services we have today when Congress passed those laws,” said Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

In full transparency, our parent company Cox Media Group is a part of the Coalition for Local News.

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