The Federal Communications Commission advanced a proposal on Friday that could encourage more people to ditch pricey cable packages for online TV options.
The commission's proposal would give online companies the same legal protections as cable and satellite providers to buy access to popular channels.
The hope is that a surge of new viable online TV services would mean more choices for viewers and lower costs. Instead of choosing between two or three providers, viewers may have dozens of ways to watch TV.
"Our proposal will mean more alternatives for consumers beyond the traditional cable or satellite bundle, including giving consumers more options to buy the programming they want," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement.
The FCC's plan would classify certain online video services in the same category as cable and satellite TV providers ("multichannel video programming distributors," in the legal terminology).
That means that the online services would have the same right as cable companies to negotiate fairly for access to broadcast networks such as Fox and CBS. TV providers that also own cable channels (such as Comcast) wouldn't be allowed to block their online rivals from carrying those channels.