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NCTA Likens Set-Top Proposal to Failed Broadcast Flag

The FCC's set-top proposal is not simple, not a solution, and would leave a trail of unintended negative consequences.

That was the gist of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association's 90-plus page reply comments.

The FCC's Democratic majority has proposed requiring MVPDs to make their set-top content and data streams available to third-party navigation devices not bound by the same contracts with programmers or the same rules about protecting the privacy of that information from hackers and content pirates.

NCTA used the arguments of Public Knowledge, a set-top proposal supporter, against it, pointing to the broadcast flag antipiracy technical mandate the FCC tried to impose a decade ago but was thrown out by the D.C. court, which ruled that the FCC did not have the authority to do it since it was a post-transmission technology and the FCC's jurisdiction, said the court, ended at the transmission's edge.

“The market for delivering content digitally over new technologies is working. Consumers can watch and listen to the content they purchase anytime and anywhere they want. … All of these great developments happened without government intervention,” which shows that “government intervention in the free market [in this case is] unnecessary," NCTA quoted Public Knowledge from its opposition to the flag.

Gigi Sohn, then head of Public Knowledge, but now a top advisor to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, said at the time the flag would give the FCC unprecedented power to dictate product design and would cause consumer confusion and cost.

After the flag was thrown out, says NCTA, "Public Knowledge’s prediction of market successes unshackled by technical mandates came true....The current Commission should not make the same mistake again."

NCTA said the set-top mandate was not needed, would jeopardize security and privacy, is illegal, and echoed the cacophony of opposition, criticism and concern about the proposal "from every direction," pointing out it came from studios, networks, programmers, diversity groups, writers, record labels, ISPs, device manufactures, legislators, privacy advocates, disability advocates, labor unions and others.

NCTA also included a study of the third-party competitive navigation device proposals by CableLabs CTO Ralph Brown that concludes they would be a "haphazard approach, switching the standards used, flip-flopping on a number of critical issues that ultimately erode security and failing to deliver on the principal architectural component of a “cloud-based Virtual Headend."