Azteca America
You say you never watch Azteca America? How about truTV? We're not sure exactly what these are but they're among the more than 80 channels included in Comcast's "Digital Starter" bundle, meaning you get them -- and pay for them -- whether you want them or not.

Cable has sold programming this way nearly since its inception -- putting together packages, or bundles, of often-unrelated content. Want football? You'll also get bowling. It's sort of the way cars are sold. Want a backup camera? Hah! You'll need to pay for a navigation package too. Oh, and heated mirrors.

Let's be fair. Not everybody hates this system -- only consumers. Program producers love it because they get paid whether you watch their stuff or not. And cable systems like it because it's a way to jack up your cable bill far beyond what it would be if you could order a la carte.

Comcast channel line-up
But it's becoming pretty obvious that it's not going to stay this way much longer. The established TV-Cable Monopoly has about as much chance of holding back the tide as the taxi industry has of stopping Uber in its tracks.

Especially now that Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has apparently seen the writing on the wall.

"Consumers have long complained about how their cable service forces them to buy channels they never watch.  The move of video onto the Internet can do something about that frustration – but first Internet video services need access to the programs," Wheeler said in his blog yesterday. "Today the FCC takes the first step to open access to cable programs as well as local television.  The result should be to give consumers more alternatives from which to choose so they can buy the programs they want." 

Wheeler says he is asking the commission to include Internet-only TV services -- presumably like the recently-banished Aereo -- to be treated as though they were cable systems.

Future Aereos

This would mean that future Aereos could carry network and local TV signals, just as the cable systems do. They would presumably have to pay but having the rights to the signals would make Internet-based video distribution a much more viable business. 

PhotoNo one was too much concerned about this back when Aereo was trying to get off the ground but with HBO and CBS saying they will soon offer streaming video service for customers who don't have cable, joining Netflix, Amazon, et al, regulators and politicians are starting to take the idea more seriously.

Wheeler says he is asking the commission to start a rulemaking procedure that will modify the FCC's definition of a "multichannel video programming distributor,” or MVPD. That's the technical term for cable TV systems like Comcast.

"A key component of rules that spur competition is assuring the FCC’s rules are technology-neutral.  That’s why the definition of an MVPD should turn on the services that a provider offers, not on how those services reach viewers.  Twenty-first century consumers shouldn’t be shackled to rules that only recognize 20th century technology," Wheeler said.

Wheeler said that besides providing more competition in programming and pricing, expanding the number of streaming video suppliers will encourage the deployment of more and faster broadband.

"Those seeking to deploy new competitive broadband networks tell us that it’s hard to provide new high-speed Internet access without also being able to offer a competitive video package as well.  An updated definition of MVPD would permit a new broadband competitor to offer customers the ability to reach a variety of OTT video packages without necessarily having to enter the video business itself," he said.

So hang onto that cable channel guide for now, but don't bother having it embossed.

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