AT&T Cites Set-Top Myth-Management

Calling it the "Google proposal," Stacy Fuller, AT&T Vice President of Federal Regulatory, took aim at the set-top box proposal FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler plans to vote on at the Feb. 18 public meeting.

She said in a blog post Tuesday (Feb. 16) that "everyone" wants to provide consumers more choices and the market is already moving in that direction.

The FCC proposal is to require cable operators to provide set-top data and content to third parties for their own navigation devices and to set new standards.

"Finding an alternative to the set-top box and creating more paths to innovation is a goal I believe everyone can get behind," Fuller said, adding that that AT&T/DirecTV would accelerate that in its "drive to mobilize video."

But whether to a new box or another device, fuller said a key is protecting privacy, which should not vary according to the company controlling the device. Then there is the issue of access to minority programming. "If such programming is moved to page 3 (or page 30) of the new Google video search, what impact will that have on those programmers and their future?," she said.

Fuller called it a myth that Google--which has demonstrated a third-party device--and other third parties would be subject to the same privacy rules that apply to cable and satellite. "The FCC has not identified any legal authority to impose these rules on third parties, like Google, and other federal and state rules do not set forth the same requirements."

The FCC has signaled it would make being subject to the same privacy rules a quid pro quo for third parties getting access to the set-top info, but Fuller says that if that is the case, "I can assure you there will be a question of whether the FCC has the authority to do that."

And while some have suggested the set-top programming will provide more access to independent programming--letting online content reside next to traditional fare--but Fuller says it is a myth that the proposal will enhance minority programming and programmers.

"Minority programmers are worried that existing advertising revenues (which are the dollars they use to create their content) will be significantly impacted by the Google proposal," she said. "They have questions about whether the new regime will result, for example, in their channels being moved to places that make their content harder to find, leading to fewer eyeballs and less advertising. Those are the kinds of complaints that small companies have every time Google changes its search algorithm. They’re also concerned that Google could run overlay ads, insert new ads or replace their advertising entirely – once again, fewer advertising dollars to create content.

"While the pat response to these concerns is to assert that existing content deals between content providers and pay-TV providers (including license terms, such as channel placement and advertising restrictions) will not be affected by the Google proposal [as Chairman Wheeler has] proponents of the proposal have said the exact opposite in this proceeding."

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.