Republicans Hammer FCC Committee Over AllVid

The status of the FCC's Downloadable Security Technology Advisory Committee (DSTAC) report on set-top box security was a hot topic at the House Communications Subcommittee FCC oversight hearing Tuesday.

Republicans hammered FCC chairman Tom Wheeler over the report's inclusion of an AllVid-like proposal in addition to an app-based software solution to providing security functions.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association has said the app route is the best, rather than mandating set-top standards for passing through video from various sources.

The DSTAC committee was created by the Congress in the STELAR Act to come up with a downloadable software successor to the CableCARD set-top security hardware solution. Republicans suggested the FCC had exceeded its STELAR mandate by including a proposal for a device that disaggregated MVPD video channels and united them with over-the-top offerings.

Wheeler pointed out that it was a report, that the comment deadline on the report (reports, since there were two) had just ended, that the FCC had not decided what to do, and that, in any event, the commission would not thwart protections for copyrighted content in the process.

But he also said the FCC's mandate in Sec. 629 of the Communications Act was clear: Congress told the FCC to "assure" the availability of competitive navigation devices.

Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), vice chair of the subcommittee, said that DSTAC's straying from downloadable security issues into navigation interface issues could have "negative impacts on a thriving industry." He said that the fact that DSTAC could not agree on a downloadable security successor recommendation meant it had failed.

Rep Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) told the commissioners that they should do whatever it took to insure there was a competitive market for set-tops, which was the goal, though ultimately unmet, of the CableCARD regime.

She said Sec. 629 seemed clear to her, which is that it meant consumers needed device choice, particularly given a Senate study that concluded consumers pay $213 annually to lease boxes.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said that her constituents in the content community (Nashville) had concerns about the DSTAC final report. "One of the proposals would allow MVPD service to be disassembled into individual parts that any retail device manufacturer could selectively reassemble into a new configuration and a new service, similar to the AllVid concept of 2010."

She said disaggregation would lead third parties to circumvent consumer protections built into MVPD service, but not into AllVid, and use content in ways that violate licensing terms of content creators without their consent, suggesting that would be tantamount to government intervention to abet theft.

Wheeler said that the reality was that AllVid "was an idea from a half-dozen years ago," from which the world had "moved on substantially."

He said that goal of DSTAC was to address the issues she raised and that there were "strong opinions" on both sides. "I can assure you it is no one's goal to thwart the security that protects the sanctity of copyrights" and that the FCC would review the record.

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.