Clyburn: Set-Top Proceeding Is 'Conversation'

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn says that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's set-top plan is "a new proposal but an old conversation," and signaled it was about deciding what, "if anything,” needed to change.

In an interview for C-SPAN's Communicators, Clyburn hearkened back to the AllVid proceedings that looked at options for content coming into the home and said what the chairman had observed was that "99% of us who have pay television have a set-top that we rent."

But she also said the AllVid proceeding was about choosing a platform and a technology, but that this proposal was not. Instead, she said, it would "allow the ecosystem to weigh in and set its own standards and, ideally, people will have more options at the end of the day."

She said the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, scheduled to be voted on Feb. 18, was about "having a conversation in an FCC way" about what exactly the state of play was and "what, if anything, we should do to change it."

Clyburn said she had been hearing from outside parties that they wanted user-friendly interfaces and options and an open platform to be able to take advantage of all the devices have to offer.

Clyburn suggested that open platform could also be a way for an independent content producer to get in front of some eyeballs without having to get on a cable lineup. She said a key question was "whether that device should be strictly under the management of the satellite or cable providers or whether it should be more neutral and open to potential programmers."

Clyburn said she has heard from independent programmers asking if she could get a cable or satellite company to return their calls, or that the terms they have to enter into if they get to that point don't work.

Also being launched at the FCC's Feb. 18 meeting, confirmed by the agenda circulated Feb. 11, is a notice of inquiry into programmer access to distribution platforms, an inquiry Clyburn sought.

She said it will look at whether or not there are barriers to entry and whether the market is functional or dysfunctional.

Clyburn said that and the set-top item are complementary because they are looking at whether viewers have choice and options. She also said they are about access to diverse programming and the best way to make that happen "without disrupting what is already phenomenal in the existing space."

During the interview, a clip was played from a recent interview with National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Michael Powell in which he said the marketplace was already providing choice and diversity in access via apps.

Clyburn said what the chairman has proposed is a conversation about a "more neutral standard." She pointed out that there will be a standards-setting body, including stakeholders, that will look at how to create that open platform.

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.