Wheeler expresses concern about programmers blocking websites during carriage fights

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler on Tuesday told congressional lawmakers that the trend among programmers to block access to their websites during carriage disputes with pay TV companies is "something we should all worry about."

Wheeler was speaking to representatives at an FCC oversight hearing conducted by the Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on communications and technology. As the Los Angeles Times noted Wednesday, programmers are now regularly blocking access to subscribers who get their video and broadband services from pay TV providers, for which carriage agreements can't be reached.

For example, Viacom is currently restricting online video access to MTV and Comedy Central for customers of Cable One, which is at a negotiating impasse with the media conglomerate over fees.

"Cable One has chosen to no longer carry Viacom programming and, as a result, it is no longer available to Cable One customers in any form," a Viacom spokesperson told the Times.

And last summer, CBS blocked Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) broadband subscribers--even those who didn't pay TWC for cable service--from accessing its sites

Fox was the first programmer to employ the strategy five years ago, when it blocked Cablevision (NYSE: CVC) customers from viewing its online content during a carriage dispute. Fox eventually caved to pressure from media watchdog groups.

Separately, Wheeler received somewhat of a grilling from the lawmakers, concerned about his pending mandates for net neutrality, pay TV consolidation and spectrum auctions.

For example, California Democrat Anna Eshoo noted that Wheeler's recently published proposal for revising Internet neutrality laws--which include controversial allowances for peering--will enable "some giant company blocking content."

Meanwhile, Texas Republican Joe Barton quipped, "The question before the committee today is, are we soon going to be calling him Mr. Wheeler Dealer?"

Amid the barrage, Wheeler tried to hold his ground. "When the consumer buys access to the Internet, they are buying access to the full Internet; and that's what our rules attempt to protect," he told the subcommittee.

For more:
- The Los Angeles Times has this story
- Bloomberg has this story
- ACA issued this earlier statement

Related articles:
ACA, NAB question growing industry consolidation in wake of AT&T-DirecTV merger news
Cable prices climb 4 times faster than inflation, even with competition
Tech companies object to FCC's net neutrality proposal