As the FCC embarked upon the daunting task of reviewing the thousands of comments filed on the agency’s proposal to open the cable set-top box market to competition, House members advised the FCC to proceed with caution, either by suspending action in the rulemaking proceeding pending further study or by considering the effects of the proposed rules on the copyright licensing system. By Monday, the FCC had tallied more than 60,000 comments on the rulemaking notice, which was released in February and which would require cable operators and other multichannel video program distributors (MVPDs) to provide video content and other information that is currently locked to their set-top boxes to makers of third-party navigation devices.
Echoing the April 15 White House blog post which recommended FCC action to promote competition in the cable set-top box sector, comments filed by private citizens and by a variety of public interest groups voiced strong support for the rulemaking proposal, which they stated will spur innovation, promote consumer choice, and result in lower price. Comments filed by MVPDs and by owners and producers of copyrighted video content, however, contend that the proposed rules are unnecessary in a marketplace that already offers consumers multiple, competitive options for program access. These and other opponents also believe the rules will threaten the copyright and retransmission consent regimes which underpin the current system of program distribution.
Along that vein, a group of 55 House members led by Reps. Yvette Clark (D-NY) and Gene Green (D-TX) urged FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a letter last Friday to “suspend further action” on the rulemaking notice “until . . . studies are completed and Congress has the opportunity to review and assess the studies.” Citing the potential effects of the proposed rules on “programming, security, consumer protections, costs, networks and consumer electronics,” the Clark-Green letter highlighted the importance of conducting “independent, peer-reviewed studies . . . of current developments toward market-based solutions.” Such studies, said the lawmakers, should analyze the impact of the proposed FCC rules “on all parties in the video programming marketplace” and the impact of those rules “on content diversity, intellectual property and content licensing.”
Meanwhile, in a separate letter to Wheeler, two dozen House members led by Reps. Doug Collins (R-GA) and Theodore Deutch (D-FL) voiced concern about “the potential impact that regulations inconsistent with our copyright licensing system could have on the existing ecosystem.” Recommending rules that would “prevent third-party competitors in the set-top box market from making commercial use of or modifying copyrighted programming without acquiring a direct license from the owner of the content,” the lawmakers told Wheeler that such rules would “preserve the value of existing licensed programming” and would ensure “programmers are compensated for the use of their content in the new markets envisioned by the FCC.”