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FCC May Exit App Standards Oversight in Set-Top Proposal

According to multiple sources, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's apps-based set-top box/navigation device proposal is getting a major tweak to get programmers on board.

While the proposal was to have had the FCC backstop an app licensing body to make sure agreements were reasonable and not anti-competitive, industry sources said Wednesday the FCC will no longer have that explicit oversight role and, instead, would review the app standards process after a couple of years and step in then, if necessary.

For the Hollywood studios, having the FCC potentially change the terms of contracts is a nonstarter, as it was for various Hill Democrats, especially on the Justice committees that deal with copyright.

The item is still in flux, said an FCC source, but it was moving toward that major adjustment.

But the FCC may still get to step in to the app licensing process if the item includes a complaint process, as has been reported. Licenses will need to be developed within a year, and   once filed, anyone with issues can complain to the FCC.

Wheeler signaled two weeks ago there would be further stakeholder talks and that he was willing to tweak his proposal to address concerns about the licensing body and copyrights.

FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has had issues with the FCC's role in the licensing body and copyrights, as well, so that could be a way to secure her vote, which is crucial to approving the proposal.

Wheeler has maintained his plan would not have affected contracts or created a compulsory license, but critics were not convinced given the language in the chairman's proposal about the FCC serving "as a backstop to ensure that nothing in the standard license will harm the marketplace for competitive devices."

Wheeler was urged by many to delay the vote or seek comment on his proposal, which was a major pivot from his original "unlock the box" plan. But the FCC is still scheduled to vote on the proposal Thursday (Sept. 29), in what will likely be a marathon meeting given the full agenda, which includes, among other things, a programming diversity notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) and an order streamlining broadcast purchases with foreign investment.