Copyright Office Concerned About FCC Set-Top Proposal

As expected, the FCC's set-top proposal got a lot of attention at the House Communications Subcommittee FCC oversight hearing Tuesday. Among the takeaways were that the U.S. Copyright Office is concerned about the proposal, and FCC chairman Tom wheeler is committed to working with the office to allay those concerns.

Wheeler also said he was encouraged by the cable operators' "ditch the box" alternative to his own "unlock the box" proposal, or at least the signal it sent about willingness to talk, but did not show the proposal a lot of love, telling the legislators that "one page is not a proposal, it's a press release."

He also said that the cable proposal appeared to require a gateway device for TV sets, meaning another piece of hardware, adding that he knew how much the subcommittee didn't like extra hardware. That was a reference to Republican and cable operator complaints that Wheeler's "unlock the box" proposal could mean extra equipment.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) channeled former Rep. John Dingell in asking a series of yes or no questions about the set-top proposal.

She succeeded in getting a bipartisan majority—Republican commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly and Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel—to agree that the original proposal was "flawed." Democrat Mignon Clyburn staked out the middle ground, saying "yes or no" when asked for her "yes or no" answer to whether the proposal was flawed.

It was Blackburn who said she had been meeting with the Copyright Office, and it had concerns on the FCC proposal's impact on the value of content. Rosenworcel seconded that, saying she, too, had met with the office and heard the same concern.

Blackburn asked whether the FCC's original proposal renders content "worthless." Wheeler said no, as did Clyburn. Pai and O'Rielly both said yes. Rosenworcel said the office had signaled such concerns in her meetings and more work was needed on the proposal.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) followed up on the issue of protecting content, saying he was encouraged by reports the FCC and industry were negotiating on a compromise—though Wheeler did not go that far in his discussions of the discussions.

Pallone asked whether the chairman would commit to working with the Copyright Office before taking any final vote.

Wheeler promised not only to work with the office but with stakeholders on contract issues, which were beyond the office's purview.

Blackburn got all five commissioners to agree that protecting content and copyrights was essential.

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.