Rival FCC Set-Top Box Proposal Campaigns Rally Their Supporters

Set-top box
Monday May 23 was the deadline for public comment submissions to the FCC regarding its proposal to “unlock” the set-top box.

Previously, the President waded into the debate.

More than 150,000 people sent in comments, as well as ex parte notices; in other instances, major companies and media figures made declarations. Here’s a look at what’s being said.

Of note is that of the 150,000 comments, many of them seem to be identical. This is the result of political factions inspiring others to utilize specific wording.

The Free Press, an organization “fighting to save the free and open Internet, curb runaway media consolidation, protect press freedom, and ensure diverse voices are represented in our media,” set up a form allowing those in favor of the proposal to send in the following text:

“Almost everyone who pays for cable TV rents a set-top box from their cable company to watch the content they've paid for. This is a great deal for the cable companies, which rake in $20 billion in annual revenues from these rentals. But these rentals cost the average household hundreds of dollars a year. Those set-top boxes control the programming that comes into our homes and creates a system where cable companies shut out competition. And it stops new programming and channels made and owned by people of color from reaching a wider audience. We urge you to pass this proposal which would lower our cable bills and create more diverse options for what we can see on TV.”

Meanwhile, The Future of Television Coalition, which “promotes market-based innovation that offers TV viewers an unprecedented volume of high-quality, diverse programming available on an expanding universe of devices and services, while opposing unnecessary technology mandates that would threaten this innovation and diversity,” has launched their own petition for those against the proposal. The verbiage on their form hews very closely to that of a different comment oft-repeated to the FCC:

"I oppose unnecessary set-top box regulations that will mean higher bills, fewer choices, and less privacy on TV. The television and video market today is full of great choices, why put such a healthy market at risk with complex and unnecessary new mandates?"

And one other against-the-proposal comment that was located again and again amongst the submissions was this one, which can’t necessarily be linked to a specific source:

“The exchange for video content is thriving and extremely competitive, offering a wide array of video streaming services, cloud-based video on demand, and apps providing news, films and programming. This market is rapidly innovating beyond the traditional set-top box to new applications and devices with more options than ever. Past FCC attempts to regulate set-top boxes have been a complete failure. Yet another failed attempt at one-size-fits-all government regulation will only hinder innovation and benefit companies with political sway rather than companies that provide what Americans want. We don't need the federal government to repair something what isn't broken -- I urge you to reject the proposed rule.”

In the press, leaders have been writing strongly-worded editorials. Just yesterday, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. chimed in, blasting the proposal.

“Before the federal government makes another mistake to set back the clock of media diversity, the FCC would be well advised to step back and listen to those who have fought this battle for equality over the decades and in other contexts,” wrote Jackson.

Throughout May, telco and cable companies also came out passionately against the set-top box proposal.

AT&T described it as "indefensible as a matter of law and nonsensical as a matter of public policy,” while Comcast said it “disregards copyright protections and licensing agreements; threatens to halt the unbridled innovation that has permeated the video marketplace for years; requires new in-home equipment; and strips consumers of privacy protections and legal remedies."

But there are many who also endorsed the FCC’s position.

“It’s time to address what the industry is really afraid of: an Open Internet and competitive markets that threaten their current reign,” Kate Forscey, government affairs associate counsel at Public Knowledge, wrote at TechCrunch. “While it’s fair for the industry to fear the concept of open devices with Internet access, it’s also fair for consumers enduring the cable box ripoff to demand the FCC do something about it. Failing FCC action, it’s possible we’ll see more unlawful viewership, not less.”

The Writers Guild of America, West, Inc. (WGAW) signaled their support as well.

“WGAW supports and applauds the Commission’s proposal to empower consumers in how they access video programming, and to promote innovation and access to diverse and independent sources of video content,” Monica S. Desai, counsel to WGAW, wrote in a letter.

In some cases, the proposal has unified Republicans and Democrats. Former senators Trent Lott (R) and John Breaux (D) advocated for additional competition in the industry.

“Unlocking the set-top box is an economic imperative, and the FCC should act,” Lott and Breaux said in a Wall Street Journal editorial. “Competition is an American value that has helped to build a great nation, with benefits that are understood and appreciated by both sides of the political aisle.”

Soon, the FCC is expected to hold meetings to review the comments. What will happen next, and which campaign will have ultimately proven to be successful?

Author: Brian Cameron

Image via Shutterstock.

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