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Rep. Eshoo Pushes Colleagues on FCC Set-Top Proposal

House Communications Subcommittee ranking member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), whose district includes Silicon Valley players, is circulating a "dear colleague" letter to other legislators pitching the FCC's set-top proposal and essentially advising them to look more closely at the issue before speaking up or out.

That is according to a source who also supplied a copy of the letter, which was circulated May 18.

That FCC proposal has been getting pushback from some Democrats as well as Republicans who share MVPD concerns about protecting copyright, advertising business models, and access to diverse content.

According to a copy of the letter, which is co-signed by Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.)—who also represents Northern California—Eshoo points to (and links to) editorials in The New York Times, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg View, Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, and The Seattle Times in support of FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal to require MVPDs to make programming streams and other data available to third-party navigation devices providers.

"Before you decide to weigh in on the FCC’s proposal," they write, "[We] urge you to talk to your constituents and ask them how they feel about ‘the privilege’ of paying hundreds of dollars a year in fees to rent their cable box. I also urge you to read the fact sheet below which dispels some of the most common myths about the FCC’s proposal."

Eshoo and Takano brand as a "misinformation campaign" cable operators' criticisms, saying they are just trying to protect their $20 billion set-top rental business—cable ops have pointed out that the criticisms are also coming from plenty of people with no financial stake in the boxes and that the marketplace is moving away from boxes anyway.

"If you loved the Ma Bell model of being forced to use AT&T’s equipment, you’ll side with the cable industry’s monopoly on set-top boxes," they told their colleagues, adding: "[T]he future clearly lies with competition and innovation. That’s how consumers win."

Below is the "fact sheet" legislators are being asked to peruse before commenting.

"FICTION: The FCC would require a government-mandated, technology-specific standard.

"FACT: The FCC’s proposal requires an independent, open standards body to set a technology-neutral standard, meaning any company will be able to manufacture a set-top box or design an app and sell it to consumers. Nothing in the proposal requires the purchase of a second box. If consumers want to continue renting their set-top box from their pay-TV provider, they can.

"FICTION: The FCC’s proposal would harm access to independent and minority content.

"FACT: Very few networks currently provide minority focused programming or are minority-owned. Two or three large cable companies effectively determine what the  American public sees and how the American public sees it. Among the many innovative cable ventures that have failed to gain access in the current system are:  Quincy Jones’ NUE TV; Russell Simmons’ cable network; Byron Allen’s Education Network; the Employment Channel; and Second Chance TV.

The FCC’s proposal to open the set-top box market will increase the availability of diverse content and empower minority programmers by eliminating the cable gatekeepers.

"FICTION: The FCC’s proposal would infringe on copyright.

"FACT: The FCC’s proposal maintains strong protections for copyrighted content and does so without making any changes to the contractual relationships that each pay-TV provider has with content companies today. The FCC’s proposal has no impact on copyright law.

"FICTION: The FCC’s proposal would allow third-parties to alter, insert, or remove ads.

"FACT: The FCC has stated unequivocally that its proposal will not allow third-parties to alter or remove advertising sold by programmers, or insert its own advertisements in place of existing ads."

The letter is circulating the same day that Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), one of the proposal's critics, is looking to educate colleagues on her concerns with the proposal, She is getting together with current BET chairman Debra Lee, TV One chairman Alfred Liggins and Victor Cerda, senior VP of Vme TV, on Capitol Hill to air their concerns. Clarke will also unveil a new Multicultural Media Caucus.