Writing to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Wednesday, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) voiced concern with the FCC’s pending rulemaking proposal to require cable and satellite multichannel video program distributors (MVPDs) to make set-top box program data available to third party device makers, warning that enactment of such rules “could upend carefully negotiated licensing agreements between [MVPDs] and content providers.” 

Hatch, a senior member and former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told Wheeler that he appreciated Wheeler’s statement three months ago that the FCC’s set-top box proposal “will not interfere with the business relationships or content agreements between MVPDs and their content providers” and “will not open up content to compromised security.”  However, as he related the widespread belief that, “if something is on the Internet, it must be free,” Hatch cautioned Wheeler that regulatory approaches that “ignore the need for licensing or undercut existing licensing agreement will likely increase costs for consumers, reduce choices, and discourage innovation.”  Reminding Wheeler that “the terms of the licensing agreements between MVPDs and programmers are the key mechanisms for protecting the copyrights of content owners,” Hatch proclaimed:  “these are the very terms that third-party device makers and apps will be permitted to disregard under the FCC’s proposal.”  As such, Hatch asked Wheeler to respond with data “that will provide a clearer understanding of exactly how the proposed rules will ensure” that the objectives of Wheeler’s February statement will be met. 

Meanwhile, in remarks at the INTX show on Wednesday, Wheeler dismissed claims of an FCC “regulatory assault” on the cable industry as he stressed that “it is incumbent both upon the regulator and the regulatee to deal with finding solutions” that focus on the needs of consumers.  While acknowledging recent industry pushback on the FCC’s set-top box and broadband privacy proposals, Wheeler recalled his own experience four decades ago as an industry lobbyist at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.  Noting that the cable industry’s mantra at that time was, “how do we change the way consumers get information?”  Wheeler proclaimed: “by golly, we sure did.”  As he observed that the FCC and the industry are now in “a make or break” period on set-top box, privacy, and “other issues on which there is some tension,” Wheeler questioned, “are you going to say ‘no’ . . . or are you going to say, ‘how are we going to make this work for consumers first?’”