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FCC Changes To Streaming Rules May Revive Local Video Stores

Jackie Fortier
The Village Vidiot boasts 50,000 titles, which could make it more attractive to film buffs if net neutrality is eliminated.

If you enjoy the convenience of streaming your favorite TV shows and movies online, the next couple of years may be rough. The Federal Communications Commission may change how internet service providers can operate, which could lead to slower speeds for some websites and diminished access. But a small, Fort Collins business may actually benefit from the potential rule change.

Right now, your internet company can’t slow down your access to sites like Netflix and speed up its own streaming service to try frustrating you into watching what they want you to -- that’s called net neutrality. The FCC mandates that all websites have to be treated equally by internet service providers, especially when it comes to speed. But without net neutrality, companies could theoretically pay internet service providers so that their website would stream more quickly than their competitors’.

“You know I don’t really want to belong to every streaming service in the world, especially if we have a problem with this net neutrality thing,” said Catherine Cole Janonis.  

That’s why she is a regular customer at the Village Vidiot, the last remaining video rental store in Northern Colorado. Her internet just isn’t fast enough for streaming services, and sometimes they aren't reliable -- so she rents DVDs.

“You know Netflix and all those other places are kind of limited, and even if you have Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, whatever else -- that’s a lot of money per month,” Janonis said.

Credit Jackie Fortier / KUNC
Village Vidiot owner Scott Shepherd.

Following a recent crowdfunding campaign, the Village Vidiot is still in business, but it’s tenuous said owner Scott Shepherd.

He has seen the rise and fall of large retail chains like Blockbuster, but now streaming, piracy and gentrification are making it difficult for him to keep a single movie rental store open in a city of 160,000 people. He has dedicated customers in the area who like the Village Vidiot’s 50,000 title selection. If net neutrality is eliminated, that could make his business more lucrative.

“One of the wonderful things about local video stores is that they are decentralized; programming and curating titles that are interesting and compelling to those audiences,” said Kit Hughes, assistant professor of media and visual culture at Colorado State University.

Curating for a streaming service is very different -- and very dependent on what a distributor wants to make available.

“If a distributor does not think that that they will make enough money on a rerelease of a film,  that has up until this point only been released on video, then they will not release it again,” said Hughes.

Meaning unless you’ve got access to a physical copy of a hard-to-find film, you may be out of luck.

She warns that if we move exclusively to streaming, it may mean the creation of a media oligopoly - with just a few companies controlling not only most of our home entertainment choices, but when they are available.

“Once you move to a model where you have national or international conglomerates, making decisions about what will work on a national or global market, you don’t have the same attention to local communities, you don’t have the same diversity in offerings. It’s just not economically feasible and it’s not one of their interests,” Hughes said.

Credit Jackie Fortier / KUNC
Shepherd has diversified his offerings to include anime and other hard to find media.

That decentralization may inadvertently help the remaining local video stores like the Village Vidiot who continue to offer hard-to-find titles and high quality viewing experience, especially in places where internet connectivity and speeds are slow. These qualities could make them more enticing if net neutrality is eliminated.

“That’s gotta be the future, you have to get the community interested in what you’re doing or you’re just another building on the road as you’re diving down the highway,” Shepherd said.

And who supports net neutrality? Content providers including Netflix, Apple and Google. They argue that people are already paying for connectivity and so deserve access to a quality experience. Something that Village Vidiot customers say they already get, one DVD at a time.

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