Kimmelman Urges Hill To Back FCC Set-Top Plan

Public Knowledge President Gene Kimmelman is urging the House and Senate leadership of FCC oversight committees to get behind FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's set-top proposal.

In a letter to the Hill this week, Kimmelman hammered "cable and Hollywood monopolies" for their pushback on the proposal.

"Contrary to the claims of Hollywood and cable monopolies, the FCC’s apps proposal will promote consumer choice while protecting copyright. Initially proposed by the cable industry, the apps proposal is a straightforward implementation of the law, which directs the FCC to assure that consumers can access their cable subscriptions on the devices of their choice," he said.

"He even argues that cable operators and programmers are working against their own interests by opposing the plan. "Great programming is why people subscribe to cable and other pay-TV services," he wrote. "A competitive device marketplace, enabled by apps, could reverse the trend of cord-cutting, especially among younger viewers, increasing revenue for cable and programmers alike."

Legislators appear to need some convincing. Democrats and Republicans have expressed concerns that the proposal inserts the FCC into contracts and copyrights and creates a compulsory license, which only Congress can do.

Kimmelman said suggesting the proposal runs afoul" of copyright or controlling laws is "legally frivolous."

"Opposition to device competition and consumer choice appears to imagine a world that has never before existed, and which copyright law does not allow: a world where big cable companies and Hollywood studios can use whatever means at their disposal to control where consumers watch the content they’ve paid for," said Kimmelman.

"I call on Congress to support the FCC action and unlock the box as soon as possible," he said.

Getting the letters were the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Commerce and Judiciary Committees.

The chair and ranking members of the House Judiciary Committee have already signaled their concerns and want to hold hearings in the next several "weeks and months" on the proposal.

An FCC spokesperson was not available at press time, but the chairman signaled last week that, while he was open to tweaking the plan (ISPs suggest it is untweakable) to make it clearer it would not create a compulsory license or run roughshod over copyrights and contracts, he was still planning a vote Sept. 29.

Kimmelman told B&C Thursday that there were meaningful and productive conversations going on at the FCC and he saw a willingness from stakeholders to work through issues, with some things that have to be resolved up front, and others developing over time. "We're not there yet," he said, but he sounded hopeful.

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.