Clyburn: No 'Rush' on Set-Top Proposal

FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn says that the voices of small operators make a difference in how she views the world and that she is mindful of how regulations impact them differently.

Clyburn was speaking at The Independent Show in Orlando, which is a co-production of the National Cable Television Cooperative and the American Cable Association, which represent small and mid-sized operators.

Clyburn said she heard the concerns of smaller operators about the impact of the FCC's new Business Data Services (BDS) reform proposal on them—she voted for the proposal—and said she was looking for a solution that "balances the need for access to bottleneck facilities while minimizing regulation where it is not necessary."

Clyburn does not control the agenda, but chairman Tom Wheeler will almost certainly need her vote to pass items like the BDS proposal and ones on set-tops and privacy.

Clyburn was asked about the FCC's "unlock the box" set-top proposal by ACA president Matt Polka in a Q&A following her speech. Clyburn said the commission was still "very much in a deliberative stage" on the FCC proposal to require MVPDs to make their set-top data and content available to third-party navigation device and app providers. "There is no rush on this," she said.

She said she had not yet reviewed the National Cable & Telecommunications Association's "ditch the box" set-top compromise proposal but said her staff had and "we will look at that.

Related: Wheeler to Hill: We'll Avoid Overburdening Small MVPDs

ACA said Clyburn "has no equal" in understanding the value of independent cable operators. Among other things, Clyburn pushed the FCC to open an inquiry into access to independent programming, which it did last February. That is a big issue for the association, which argues that program bundling practices and most-favored-nation clauses are an impediment to those independent voices. "We want to assure there is a diversity of voices in the marketplace," Polka said, in asking where Clyburn thought the inquiry was headed.

Clyburn said that since the inquiry was opened, more than 36,000 comments had been filed. She said she was working with the chairman on "next steps" and would prefer that the FCC propose some new rules. 

The inquiry is not expected to lead to any specific new regulations. Clyburn said that some had advocated for a report rather than a notice of inquiry (NOI), and she thought that the NOI elevated the status of the issue. Whatever the outcome, she said, the "fact-finding" exercise left the FCC in a better position to find solutions. Polka indicated it was a good "first step" and said he hoped it could move to a rulemaking at some point.

Polka also asked her about the FCC's broadband privacy rulemaking and the need for balance so that smaller ops don't have to redeploy resources from building out broadband to regulatory compliance.

Clyburn said she liked the way the question was posed. She says she fully endorses consumer control over how their information is used. But she said the FCC should not take a "blanket" approach. She points out the proposal asks about grandfathering the smallest operators. She said the FCC was still open to a flexible approach and said:" If there need to be exemptions or exceptions, I'm not closed to that."

She related a story about her wireline advisor, Claude Aiken, and his instruction to high-speed broadband. She said when he went to a small Pennsylvania college, he learned the difference between 200 KB dial-up and the 100 Mbps service the local cable operator there was supplying. "He has Armstrong Cable to thank for that," said Clyburn, to applause from the crowd.

Clyburn said that smaller operators often provide important advanced services but without the scale that makes it easier for larger providers. She also said she would always be mindful of the impact regulation has on small businesses, which was why she would continue to listen to their concerns and their voices. She said they continue to make a difference in how she looks at the world.

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.