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Rosenworcel: FCC Needs ‘Another Way Forward’ on Set-Tops

FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel is optimistic that the FCC and industry can find a way forward on set-tops to promote a competitive marketplace in navigation devices but signals that the problems have become clear, as has the need for more work on the proposal.

That proposal is to require MVPDs to make their program and data streams available to third-party devices and app developers to promote competitive alternatives, including wedding traditional and over-the-top content.

Rosenworcel was responding to a flurry of activity last week that surrounded the proposal, including efforts to block it in Congress via an appropriations bill, a National Cable & Telecommunications Association-backed "ditch the box" branded alternative to the chairman's "unlock the box" proposal, and the Motion Picture Association of America's support of working with the FCC to resolve copyright issues.

Related: Senate Appropriations Committee Passes Set-Top Pause Provision

"Set-top boxes are clunky and costly," Rosenworcel said in a statement provided to B&C. "Consumers don't like them and they don't like paying for them," she added. "Kudos to the chairman for kicking off this conversation [Rosenworcel voted along with Wheeler and Democrat Mignon Clyburn to kick off that conversation], but it has become clear the original proposal has real flaws and, as I have suggested before, is too complicated. We need to find another way forward."

She was not endorsing the cable effort, but instead appeared to be supporting the effort to find a compromise proposal that addresses the flaws.

"I am glad that efforts are underway to hash out alternatives that provide consumers with more choice and more competition at lower cost."

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler applauded the NCTA-backed compromise effort Monday following a speech at the National Press Club, though he, too, suggested it was part of a continuing conversation rather than a solution.

Rosenworcel voted to approve the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) proposing the set-top unbundling, but from the outset she suggested it was a work in progress that needed work, which was clear from her statement at the public meeting where the item was voted.

"Important questions have been raised about copyright, privacy, diversity—and a whole host of other issues in a marketplace that has been tough for competitive providers to crack," she said back in February. "We will need to explore them in the record that develops.... This rulemaking is complicated. It describes three information streams for navigation services, work that needs to be done by standards bodies, a medley of security systems, and a trio of parity requirements. The most successful regulatory efforts are simple ones. More work needs to be done to streamline this proposal, because in the end for consumers to enjoy the bounty of what we have proposed execution is all." 

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.