FCC: Privacy Is Quid Pro Quo for Set-Top Data

WASHINGTON — Privacy issues went very public last week as Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler talked up his set-top box proposal, sounding like the agency might be trying to apply consumer-protection regulations to technology firms and app developers.

A senior official assured Multichannel News the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on “Expanding Consumers’ Video Navigation Choices,” as it was billed on the agenda for the planned Feb. 18 vote, did not propose new privacy regulation, but proposed making voluntary adherence to cable-like data protections a quid pro quo for getting access to set-top data.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Wheeler said, “The cable companies are collecting information on you today, and they have a set of rules they have to live by [Title VI CPNI regs].” For new entrants to the video-access space — which could be a box, an app, a dongle or something on the drawing board — “you have to have the same kind of rules that cable companies have,’ ” he added.

That had some cable operators wondering if that meant the FCC was going to try to apply new regulations to edge providers and technology companies.

Senior officials had told MCN last week that MVPDs have different obligations under the Cable Act than device manufacturers and that “Title VI applies to MVPDs only.”

A senior official speaking on background provided more insight into the proposal, explaining that rather than proposing to extend Title VI to device manufacturers or app developers, the proposal tentatively concludes that third-party hardware and software solutions would self-certify that they are in compliance with similar privacy obligations in order to get access to MVPD set-top data. In addition, they must comply with European Union privacy regulations.

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.