The era of must-carry regulations has passed

In Finland, cable television companies are under a statutory obligation to provide the public service television and radio channels from Yleisradio (Yle), Finland’s national broadcaster, to customers using their networks, without receiving any compensation from Yle. The must-carry obligation is a relic of the past.

In 2017, the last commercial television channels were removed from the scope of the must-carry obligation in Finland. Provision of these channels has continued as before in cable networks, despite the termination of the must-carry obligation. Similarly, there are no grounds for the must-carry obligation applying to Yle’s channels.

Back when the must-carry obligation was enacted into law, the terrestrial antenna TV network was controlled by Yle, and the cable networks were controlled by cable network companies. Over the years, the situation has changed substantially, and the problematic nature of this regulation has become increasingly apparent. Today, Yle’s channels are broadcast on the antenna network under normal commercial agreements, and this should also be the case for other broadcasting technologies.

The must-carry obligation is a barrier to digital development

The use of broadband connections is expanding at an incredible pace, especially because TV programmes and other content are increasingly being viewed online.

However, cable operators risk falling victim to outdated legislation. The must-carry obligation forces their networks to include Yle’s radio stations, which almost nobody listens to on their television these days. However, the FM signal uses the same network frequency that would be needed to improve cable broadband. This leads to a situation in which operators are not able to meet the demand for broadband and satisfy customers’ needs despite having the technical capacity to do so.

Broadcasting technologies should be treated equally

The must-carry obligation has reached the end of the line in a media environment transformed by technological development. Regulations should be applied to all technical solutions in the same, technology-neutral way, and the type of broadcasting technology must not affect the legal treatment or copyright royalties payable. The broadcast of Yle’s programmes, including the associated copyright royalties, should be agreed on commercial terms, in the same way as for other channels.

The antenna and cable networks are of comparable value as broadcasting routes, so the must-carry obligation for cable television networks should also be repealed for public service television and radio channels when the matter comes under consideration next year at the latest.

Asko Metsola, Legal Affairs, FiCom