Amazon Says FCC Licensing Body Is Wrong Set-Top Approach

Amazon execs met with a top aide to FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel last week to pitch their take on the FCC's app-based set-top revamp order, including that a proposed licensing body is the wrong way to go.

That item remains among the commissioners for vetting after FCC chairman Tom Wheeler pulled the item from a public meeting vote in September after, it is widely believed, Rosenworcel still had issues with its impact on copyrights and contracts.

Wheeler proposed a licensing body that, with FCC oversight and input, would approve an MVPD-supplied app giving third-party navigation devices access to MVPD content.

Related: Microsoft Has Issues With Set-Top Proposal

While a later iteration of the set-top proposal was said to have backed off the FCC's explicit role in backstopping app licenses to make sure they are reasonable and not anticompetitive, that was not enough for programmers, who made that point clear to Rosenworcel.

Amazon argues that the licensing body approach could "delay competition and consumer choice."

In meetings with Rosenworcel legal advisor Marc Paul, Amazon representatives said the FCC could rely on the standards and practices of app stores, which it said are "well-understood, transparent, and accepted by media companies, including cable programmers and MVPDs that work within these practices to provide apps to phone and tablet devices today."

Related: App Developers to FCC: Rethink Set-top 'Intervention'

As to the issue of the FCC's proposal on copyrights and contracts, Amazon argued that if an MVPD could not strike an agreement with a device maker on in-app transactions—VOD, for example—they should have to offer a "consumption only" app that allows users to access already purchased content but not new content. 

Amazon says that will insure that an inability to agree on commercial terms for the sale of content "will not delay the availability of MVPD linear and VOD services on widely distributed devices."

Amazon also says that at a baseline, the data MVPDs should supply to third-party devices must include basic programming information and consumer entitlement information (what a device is permitted to do with content—recording, for example).  

Cable operators say they should not be obliged to provide a consumption-only app without the transactional offerings. "Such an app would not provide consumers with the MVPD’s premium and video-on-demand content to which they are entitled and would cause customer confusion," NCTA: The Internet & Television Association has told the FCC.

There is no sign of a vote yet on the set-top proposal. It has not been scheduled for the November public meeting. It has been circulated to the commissioners for a vote outside that meeting, but given the calls for transparency on the item from both Hill Democrats and Republicans, a public vote would appear more likely.

Wheeler has said he was still hoping for a vote by the end of the year.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.