UPDATE with MPAA and DGA statements: FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel doesn’t seem to be on board yet with chairman Tom Wheeler’s plan to help independent manufacturers sell cable set-top boxes. The FCC took a proposed vote on the matter off the agenda for today’s open meeting, but will keep it on the circulation list.
The two FCC members, and fellow Democrat Mignon Clyburn — who make up a majority of the five-member commission — said in a statement they “are still working to resolve the remaining technical and legal issues and we are committed to unlocking the set-top box for consumers across this country.”
They add that they “have made tremendous progress – and we share the goal of creating a more innovative and inexpensive market for these consumer devices.”
Wheeler has been working to bring Rosenworcel on board. She told a Senate hearing this month that she has “some problems” with the chairman’s plan.
Congress has repeatedly ordered the FCC to promote competition in set-top boxes, but its efforts have been thwarted by industry resistance. The FCC says that 99% of subscribers pay an average of $231 a year to lease the boxes, even well after they’ve covered the cost of the devices. What’s more, the boxes frequently deter competition by making it difficult for viewers to switch to Internet-delivered services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Faced with tough opposition from cable companies and Hollywood, Wheeler revised his proposal early this month. He now wants pay TV distributors to offer subscribers free, FCC-approved apps that they could download to the device of their choice to watch programming.
That’s a shift from his previous plan that would have made it possible for independent manufacturers to change the order of channels offered.
Today’s delay was applauded by cabler and Hollywood groups.
“The MPAA is pleased that the FCC is taking more time, and we hope they use it to ensure any set-top box proposal remains consistent with copyright policy and avoids harming creators,” the studio lobby group said in a statement.
Said the DGA: “The Directors Guild of America was pleased to learn that the FCC has decided to delay consideration of the set-top box proposal. Although supportive of providing consumers free choice, the DGA has vigorously expressed its concerns regarding the proposal and its potentially devastating effects on the rights and livelihoods of the creators of film and television. It is our hope that the FCC has heard the DGA and other voices and that they will craft a proposal, released for public comment in advance of any vote, that protects copyright, privacy, and the essential revenue streams that allow for the creation of entertainment programs enjoyed around the world.”
Wheeler’s proposal would still require pay TV providers to provide information that would enable owners of rival devices to search for shows across services such as Netflix and Amazon, not just on conventional cable channels.
“We are pleased that the FCC has chosen to delay consideration of its set-top box item, and hope that additional time will lead to meaningful public review and comment on any newly-crafted proposal under consideration,” cable’s leading lobby group, NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, says in a statement.
“Our industry is committed to a future where viewers have the freedom to watch their favorite shows on a wide variety of tablets, streaming consoles, smartphones and other connected devices. We will continue our efforts to innovate in the marketplace to expand consumer choice, promote market innovation, protect the rights of content holders, and respect consumer privacy.”
Comcast Senior EVP David Cohen agrees that the FCC “made the right decision.” He says that, based on what’s been released about the plan, it “does not solve the copyright, privacy, innovation and other significant concerns that were implicated in [Wheeler’s] discredited original proposal – and suffers from the same legal infirmities. …[H]eavy-handed government regulation, based on questionable legal authority in a fast-moving marketplace will stop the apps revolution dead in its tracks, and delay consumer choice.”
Public Knowledge Senior Counsel John Bergmayer says he’s “disappointed” by today’s delay.
“Opponents of unlocking the box will continue to shift from one manufactured concern to another in an attempt to keep consumers renting the controlled, locked-down set-top box, costing consumers billions and holding back innovation and video competition,” he says. “We will continue to push the FCC to act as soon as possible to end the set-top box ripoff.”
Chip Pickering, CEO of tech industry trade group Incompas, says he’s optimistic that commissioners “will find common ground…For competition to rise, the set-top box monopoly must fall, and we look forward to working with all members of the FCC toward this shared goal.”
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