AT&T: FCC Fighting Old Set-Top War

A top AT&T exec says the FCC's set-top proposal is a foolish monstrosity and that the current commission is like an old general fighting the last war but with casualties to the business models of MVPDs.

In comments on that proposal filed with the FCC, the company says that effort is an attempt to "engineer MVPD networks and video business models in a misguided quest to keep the world safe for set-top boxes," AT&T VP, federal regulatory, Hank Hultquist blogged of the company's filing.

He argues, as do other MVPDs, that consumers are hardly locked into set tops—"unlock the box" is the FCC's catchy brand for the proposal.  Hultquist says the industry is rapidly moving to make content available on as many devices as possible, driven by the app explosion, and suggests the FCC focuses on the handle of that "hockey stick" growth trend.

"Instead of jumping on the app bandwagon," he says, the FCC is artificially subdividing MVPD service, handing Google and TiVo keys to customer viewing data that MVPDs have to protect from disclosure and to content they could rebrand and reconfigure and monetize at will.

He adds that when MVPDs try to do away with the box, which the FCC says is too costly, that is not enough either because the apps are still proprietary, as are Netflix's and Amazon's apps, he points out, and don't provide for "universal search."

"To try to fit its Rube Goldberg-esque proposal into the statutory framework, the FCC mangles the ordinary use of language," said Hultquist. "According to the Commission, words like 'device,' 'equipment,' and 'converter box' actually mean 'software.' And companies like Samsung, Apple, or Roku become an 'affiliate' of an MVPD simply by entering into a commercial relationship with them. This is patent nonsense."

The timeline for the FCC's proposal is two years, but Hultquist does not see the technical obstacles to the proposal being overcome in that time frame.

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.