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Powell Pounds Set-Top Plan

National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Michael Powell took to the blogosphere Thursday (Jan. 28) to explain why he thought the FCC was trying to insert itself into a marketplace that was already "teeming" with innovation.

He was referring to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal on set-top box standards that would give third parties access to cable set-top data.

Suggesting the chairman was being "willfully oblivious" to the changing TV marketplace, Powell, himself a former FCC chair, pointed to Netflix, Amazon, HBO Now, and Roku, and said that cable content can already be watched on iPhones, iPads, Xboxes, Smart TV's and more.

"Wheeler’s proposal reaches backward to breathe new life into the market for more boxes, using a pre-Internet, 20-year-old law minted in a time far, far before “House of Cards,” binge watching, YouTube and smartphones. This rear-view-mirror regulation is the wrong vision for the video future, and one should be surprised and alarmed that the FCC is peddling it," he said.

Wheeler has said his proposal does not threaten cable bundles or tiering or program contracts, but Powell sees it very differently/

"[T]he real benefits of the FCC’s proposal tilt decidedly to the commercial interests of a few well-heeled tech companies," he said. "What’s in it for them? In short, they get to create their own video service on the back of others. Rather than negotiate and pay for content — like all video streamers do today — they want the government to mandate its free availability. Why negotiate and pay for ESPN, Food Network or TV One, when the government will create a mandate that lets you build a box and fill it with top-value content without paying a dime?"

Powell also took aim at Google, which lobbied heavily on the issue. "The FCC also hands over access to valuable set-top box data to the likes of Google," he says. "This all allows these tech giants to profit handsomely off the intellectual property of others without sharing any of that cash (or prized big data) with the people who created it."

Wheeler has planned a Feb. 18 vote on the proposal, which he said he was circulating to the other commissioners Thursday (Feb. 18).