Opinion

Wanted, now: More competition in the TV marketplace

A television screen surrounded by viewing options. (Photo: Haywiremedia, via Shutterstock)

We all adjust our individual habits in response to positive changes in the marketplace – the ubiquity of smartphones means I now text more often then I call, and consume news on my phone rather than my laptop.  These habit changes are generally a good thing – companies are encouraged to invest in new products and services that satisfy consumers changing demands.

The video marketplace should be no exception to this rule.

But Federal laws regulating television are stuck in the dark ages. These outdated laws are hurting the market and consumers alike, causing repeated channel blackouts and stifling innovation that could further expand and create new forms of delivering the content we want to watch.

Current federal TV laws date back to a time when a pager was considered cutting-edge. They don’t take any of these consumer or technological shifts into account.

Congress must act to create a modern framework to increase competition in the TV marketplace and protect consumers from constant blackouts.

The growth of broadband, especially high-speed wireless and unlimited mobile data plans, have made lower-cost video streaming services an attractive option for millions.

Nielsen reported this year that the number of U.S. cord cutters has grown 48% since 2011. That’s 16 million U.S. homes — 14% of households with TVs — without traditional cable or satellite TV. Yet the current federal TV laws date back to a time when a pager was considered cutting-edge. They don’t take any of these consumer or technological shifts into account, and it’s hurting the market and consumers alike.

It’s time to modernize these laws to reflect our changing viewing habits.

Among Latinos, the need to modernize TV viewing rules is particularly important.  About 1 in 3 Latino adults subscribes to a “skinny bundle” of video services. That’s nearly 3 times the rate of non-Latinos. More generally, a recent report called Hispanics “a mobile-first community with engagement levels that far exceed those of the population at large.” Modern TV rules will allow us the flexibility to choose to consume the content we want in the way that makes the most sense for us.

Congresswoman Eshoo’s bill would reduce TV channel blackouts, which have already hit record highs this year.

For a large portion of Silicon Valley we are fortunate to be represented by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo who understands the importance of these issues and is a leading voice on TV marketplace reform. She recently introduced bipartisan legislation to improve federal TV rules that she says “hurt consumers in their wallets.”

Congresswoman Eshoo’s bill would reduce TV channel blackouts, which have already hit record highs this year. It would also modernize federal licensing procedures and other provisions drafted decades ago. Additionally, the bill would help travelers access the cable bundles or satellite signals they already pay for when they’re on the road. This is timely because the current rules benefiting these subscribers expire this December.

Simply put, her bill would bring the rules governing our video market into the 21st Century.

Congress should follow Rep. Eshoo’s lead and do more to explore the vast economic potential of unleashing a new wave of innovative in our TV marketplace, as well as the consumer protection pitfalls that would result from a failure to act.  That means holding hearings, seeking comments from interested groups, and reaching out to Silicon Valley where the hardware and software we design is fueling much of this change.

Action on this important issue is long overdue. Consumers are increasingly cutting the cord, but continue to get held hostage in the middle of blackout negotiations – the costs of which get passed on to us. It’s time we speak up and tell Congress to get to work and pass Congresswoman Eshoo’s Modern Television Act.

Ed’s Note: Ron Gonzalez is the president of the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley.


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