It’s Video By Any Other Name

Published February 1, 2007

In December, Comedy Central announced plans to air on prime time TV a show first produced by start-up wireless carrier Amp’d Mobile Inc.

Of course, it’s common now for shows originally produced for broadcast TV to be “broadcast” soon thereafter on cell networks. But this might be the first time a show originally produced for cell phone distribution will be aired on broadcast television.

As Richard Nixon was wont to say: “Let me be abundantly clear.” Isn’t it time to recognize that we live in an age of video abundance? Isn’t it time to stop applying different regulatory regimes to different technological platforms, based on the name we give the platform over which the video is delivered or the screen on which we watch the content? More abundantly clearly: Isn’t it time to get rid of all the regulations applicable to video content and delivery that were developed in an age when consumers had much less choice?

The import of this cross-pollination between technologies is that the American people have available an ever-increasing amount of content from an ever-increasing number of diverse sources to view or access whenever and wherever they wish on whatever screen they prefer. (One can already anticipate the punch line, “You can call me ‘TV,’ you can call me ‘cable,’ you can call me ‘IPTV,’ or you can call me ‘VOPL-video over powerline.’ Just don’t call the FCC!”)

The reality of what’s happening in the marketplace today, largely due to rapid technological advances in digital broadband networks and applications, ought to convince policymakers and regulators that media ownership and other remaining video regulations devised in the analog era are woefully outdated. With competition among broadband platform providers for delivery of differentiated content and applications, policymakers ought to understand that so-called “network neutrality” mandates, intended to prohibit differentiation, are completely unnecessary and very counterproductive. Consumers will vote with their eyeballs, eardrums, and mouse clicks when they are dissatisfied.

If the policymakers and regulators don’t understand this marketplace reality at a time when content, such as that produced by Comedy Central, jumps quickly from cell phone to TV to the Web to cable to satellite and back, the joke will be on us … and the First Amendment too.

Randolph J. May ([email protected]) is president of the Free State Foundation.