NAACP, Urban League Tell FCC to Pause Set-Top Vote

Concerns from a rainbow of diversity groups was raining on FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's new set-top/navigation device proposal this week, with the NAACP, Urban League and others, "strongly urging it" to "hit the 'pause' button on your revised proposal so that the Commission can do its statutory duty to evaluate its impact."

According to a letter dated Sept. 22, those concerns are also shared by Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council, Rev. Jessie Jackson's Rainbow Push Coalition and Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, among others.

"By setting this plan for a public vote on September 29th—after a very short three weeks—the Commission is embracing a process that essentially shuns public discourse and limiting our ability as interested stakeholders and advocacy groups to fully evaluate and provide necessary input," they said, adding: "[Wi]th this revised proposal, the Commission continues to arbitrarily ignore its statutory duty to protect diversity and inclusion..."

Related: T-Mobile Backs FCC on Set-Tops

The set-top proposal was on the agenda for the Sept. 29 public meeting released Sept. 22 after the chairman said last week he thought the item could be tweaked to address concerns and ready for that vote.

The same diversity groups also had issues with the chairman's initial "unlock the box" plan, asking to push pause on that back in March.

Related: Set-Tops—ANA Calls FCC App Licensing Regime 'Draconian'

"Based on the limited information that has been publicly disclosed, we remain concerned that this revised proposal may still bring undue harm and stress to the business models of diverse and independent programmers," they wrote FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

While Wheeler has said that the proposal will help newer sources of programming online get more visibility alongside traditional media, and the groups acknowledge that, they also say they have concerns if "increased competition serves to devalue legacy media or degrade the revenue sources that support them, including advertising."

Related: Set-Tops—NAB Advises FCC to Stay Out of Licensing

The set-top issue has divided diversity advocates between new entrants looking for more attractive shelf space -- or just to get on the shelf at al l-- and established players who share other programmers and ISP concerns about protecting their content already on the shelves from being repackaged and resold without sharing in any new profits.

The groups also have issues with the FCC proposal of an apps licensing body. "In addition to being unprecedented and perhaps outside of the scope of the agency’s jurisdiction, this approach may still violate copyright, even with an imposition of royalty-free, compulsory license agreements for MVPDs and programmers."

Wheeler says the plan does not create a compulsory license, but if the FCC steps in to change the license per its conclusion it is either unreasonable or anti-competitive, critics of that approach say it effectively does.

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.