“There seem to be so many options but at the same time no options,” she said. “I am paying so much for what doesn’t seem like a lot. Nothing gives me everything I want.”
Video’s migration to the Internet creates new challenges for lawmakers and regulators, who have strict rules for broadcasters and cable providers but none for the Web.
Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.V.) will focus in a hearing this week on how rural and disadvantaged communities are affected by the shift in technologies.
“We need an intelligent discussion about how to reflect public interest on the Internet when TV and radio broadcast is moving there and the Internet has become the venue for civic dialogue,” said Michael Copps, former commissioner of the FCC and board member of public interest group Public Knowledge.
“I want to focus this hearing on what these changes mean for consumers, especially in rural areas, and if this evolution of video can bring them higher-quality content at lower rates,” Rockefeller said.
Broadcasters say the decline of their business is exaggerated. Political ad money is still being funneled to their stations, and the networks are charging retransmission fees to cable and satellite providers to run the hottest network shows.
“As policymakers review online video’s potential, make no mistake that there is no substitute for the role of the free and local broadcaster in delivering compelling content, niche programming, and lifesaving information in times of emergency,” said Dennis Wharton, executive vice president of the National Association of Broadcasters.
The FCC said it remains committed to broadcast television even as it tries to get stations to give up airwaves to resell to wireless providers. With its eyes set on solving the capacity crunch on wireless networks, the agency is considering ways to ensure broadcast television is protected. But there are no guarantees a town won’t lose stations that choose to sell airwaves.
“The FCC is committed to making sure that consumers can get the information that they need, and expects to see a healthy broadcast industry after incentive auctions,” spokesman Neil Grace said. “At the same time, many broadcasters recognize the changing landscape and are working to seize the opportunities of a multiplatform broadband world by experimenting with new technologies, platforms and business models.”
As technology improves, new options will only become more attractive, analysts say.
Jenn Rubin, a 28-year-old Web producer, rarely watches a video without using another device that may also stream videos at the same time. With broadband and WiFi at her Bethesda home, she can catch video news and movies on any of her multiple devices — last Friday, for instance, she watched a Boston Celtics basketball game on ESPN 360 over her tablet while working on her laptop. But she isn’t prepared to give up her Comcast cable subscription — even as new technologies are already poised to replace it.
“It’s still a great experience to sit with friends in front of the TV with takeout and just hang out together,” Rubin said. “That doesn’t change.”