In a second development concerning the FCC’s set-top box rulemaking proceeding, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler defended the FCC’s proposal in a series of recent letters released late last week that address concerns, raised by various members of Congress, that the FCC’s plan will result in the theft or misuse of copyrighted works owned by programmers.

More than 175 members of Congress from both parties, including Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Tony Cardenas (D-CA), have asked the FCC to reconsider its recent proposal to spur competition in the market for video navigation devices by requiring cable operators and other multichannel video program distributors (MVPDs) to make set-top box content and applications available to third-party device makers.  In letters addressed to lawmakers on June 3, Wheeler sought to allay fears over copyrights, stressing that the proposed rules, if adopted, “will lead to competition that will improve consumer choice while respecting and protecting the exclusive rights of content creators.”  While reminding lawmakers that the purpose of the rulemaking proceeding is “is to fulfill the statutory mandate to give consumers a meaningful choice in the video navigation device and app market,” Wheeler asserted that the FCC “has always respected the statutory rights of content owners and had pursued policies that encourage respect for these rights.”  As such, Wheeler voiced confidence that “FCC-specific authorities . . . will safeguard the legitimate interests of all the participants in the video ecosystem.” 

Wheeler’s pronouncements, however, did little to persuade Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who advised Wheeler in a letter last Friday that the proposed rules “would add new costs for hardware and equipment that will inevitably be borne by consumers.”  As he emphasized that “millions of consumers” already receive streamed or over-the-top video content over smart phones, tablet PCs and other alternative devices and that the FCC’s plan would result in higher costs for small and rural MVPDs, McConnell urged Wheeler and the FCC to carefully consider concerns raised by lawmakers and stakeholders “across the ideological spectrum.”