Future Of TV Says Wheeler Makes Set-Top Case for Them

ISPs and others opposed to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal to open MVPD set-top box data and programming to third parties under yet-to-be determined new standards were quick to jump on a statement Wheeler made in a Hill oversight hearing Tuesday (March 22).

At a House Communications Subcommittee hearing, Wheeler, in talking about his proposal and how it would not allow those third parties to ride roughshod over copyright protections, said there were "today the equivalent of competitive set top boxes available in the market," and cited Google's Chromecast. Wheeler said that Chromecast does not violate copyright, does not "overlay commercials" and is not out to take over cable TV, which he called "malarkey."

the Future of TV Coalition, which includes cable ISPs and others opposing the set-top proposal, was quick to pick up that comment and run with it, saying it showed there were already alternatives in the market, something they argued made the set-top proposal unnecessary.

"If the classic Washington definition of a 'gaffe' is to accidentally tell the truth, Chairman Wheeler’s comments at today’s hearing are a whopper," said the coalition in a statement. "He admitted, plainly and clearly, that app-powered devices like Chromecast and Roku offer consumers an alternative to traditional set-top boxes and are readily available in the marketplace. Which begs the question — why is the Chairman so desperate to solve a problem that he admits does not exist?"

“Chairman Wheeler correctly points out that apps-driven innovation is already allowing consumers to watch video on a wide range of devices — without hurting small and independent programmers, invading privacy, or undermining copyright protections. Why then is he proposing a sweeping mandate that explicitly rejects this apps approach and strips TV providers of the technical and contractual tools they currently use to ensure these protections remain in place?"

“What the Coalition fails to acknowledge is that 99% of pay-TV consumers rent a box from their pay-TV provider, paying $231 a year on average," said FCC Press Secretary Kim Hart in response. "The marketplace is not providing consumers with choice.   While Roku and Chromecast may provide  ‘equivalent’ functions to a set-top box, today these devices and consumers that use them remain bound by the whims of the pay-TV industry. Pay-TV providers choose which device to make an app for and independent app providers cannot develop an app to display this video programming. For instance, no MVPD provides an app to Chromecast.”

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.