By DOug Halonen
LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - Ensuring continued unfettered access to internet content is crucial to the emergence of competitive online video service, Barry Diller, chairman and senior executive of IAC, testified at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Tuesday morning.
"Net neutrality is absolutely mandatory, because there is no question that without it, you will see the absolute crushing of any competitive force," Diller told the senators. "Incumbents have natural incentives to limit competitive threats," Diller said. "Congress should be vigilant that the rules of the game favor entry, innovation and competition."
Diller was called to the one-day hearing, titled "The Emergence of Online Video," in part because of the March launch in New York of Aereo, his new streaming technology.
Aereo picks up broadcast signals over clusters of tiny antennas and sends them via the internet to users' mobile devices, computers, or web enabled televisions for $12 a month. The service is facing a fierce legal challenge from NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, PBS and Univision, all of whom have filed suit alleging copyright violation.
"Aereo is an unauthorized internet delivery service that is receiving, converting and retransmitting broadcast signals to its subscribers for a fee," said one of a pair of federal lawsuits.
Aereo permits consumers "to access the over-the-air content to which they are entitled," Diller said in defense of the service.
Also testifying at the hearing was Paul Misener, vice president for global public policy for Amazon.
Misener agreed that the actions of cable TV operators and broadcasters should be monitored vigilantly to ensure that competitive TV services are able to roll out over the Internet.
"We've seen indications that they (broadcasters and cable operators) may wish to restrict the availability of competing content," Misener said.
Committee Chairman John Rockefeller (D-WV) told the senators he hoped the emergence of online video would put a damper on the escalating costs of TV programming for consumers and lead to what he views as "better" content.
"Too much television programming is crude and a poor reflection of our society," the senator said.
In a statement of response to Diller's testimony, Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, said: "NAB strongly supports legal action against Aereo. Copyright and TV signal protections promote a robust local broadcasting system that serves tens of millions of Americans every day with high quality news, entertainment, sports and emergency weather information. A plaintiffs' win in this case will ensure the continued availability of this programming to the viewing public."