House Judiciary Committee Will Look Into FCC Set-Top Plan

On the heels of a letter they joined on asking FCC chairman Tom Wheeler to release the text of his set-top plan, the bipartisan leadership of the House Judiciary Committee have signaled they are going to hold hearings on that plan.

"We will be conducting oversight over this matter in the weeks and months to come," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) in a joint statement out of the Judiciary committee.

"Regardless of whether one supports or opposes the FCC’s efforts to create set-top box alternatives"—most Democrats and Republicans will say creating set-top competition is a good thing—"we have very serious concerns that this should not be accomplished through a compulsory copyright licensing process that may well exceed the FCC’s jurisdiction," said Goodlatte and Conyers.

FCC press secretary Kim Hart said the item does not create a compulsory license.

"The proposed text of the FCC’s revised set-top box proposal has not been given to Congress, but published reports indicate that the FCC is considering a licensing body to develop a one-size fits all standard apps license. There are many unresolved questions about this proposal, not the least of which is the fundamental question of whether the FCC even has the authority to create such a regime."

Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel—whose vote Wheeler will need Sept. 29, if he sticks with that timetable, which he has pledged to do—has also said she is concerned about the FCC getting into licensing and isn't convinced it has the authority.

Goodlatte and Conyers are also asserting their authority. "We are also concerned that this proposal encroaches upon the Judiciary Committee’s copyright jurisdiction, and may not adequately protect creators’ rights and the contractual rights of parties," they said.

Wheeler indicated Friday he would not be making that plan public before the Sept. 29 vote and that he was still committed to that date. 

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.