House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) joined House Energy and Commerce Committee member Yvette Clarke (D-NY) last Friday voiced concern that a recent FCC rulemaking proposal to facilitate third-party access to content and programming that is locked into cable set-top boxes “does not include a meaningful assessment of the effects on independent and diverse networks, whose business models may be greatly threatened.”  As such the law-maker asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to launch an investigation into the potential impact of the proposed FCC rules on “small, independent, and multicultural media programmers and content providers.” 

Adopted in February, the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) responds to provisions of the 2014 STELA Reauthorization Act that  require the FCC to sunset its ban on integrated security in cable set-top boxes.  The rules proposed in the NPRM seek to spur a competitive commercial market for set-top boxes and other equipment that consumers use to access programming transmitted by multichannel video program distributors (MVPDs) by requiring MVPDs to offer three specified “information flows” to third-party device makers.  Although the FCC’s stated goal in the proceeding is to bring new choices to subscribers who rent set-top equipment from their cable or satellite TV providers, Walden and Clarke cautioned in their letter to the GAO that the FCC “must proceed with a better understanding of how their proposed rules could limit diversity and inclusion on our nation’s shared media platforms.” 

As such, Walden and Clarke asked the GAO to “research how the FCC’s proposal will affect the economic viability of . . . programmers” as well as “the resulting availability of diverse programming for all communities.”  Along that vein, the lawmakers are seeking answers to several key questions that include (1) the potential impact of the FCC’s proposed rules on the ability of small and multicultural media concerns to negotiate program carriage, (2) the value of diverse programming and the ability of such programming to “find an audience,” and (3) “channel placement, profile, promotion, content protection, subscription revenue, advertising revenue, and the ability to make future investments in quality multicultural programming.”  In closing, the lawmakers declared it “critical that there be a thorough examination” of “potential harms to small and medium-size businesses that may not be able to recover from a radical shift in content distribution.”  Officials at the FCC offered no comment.