Sen. Heller Seeks Privacy-Related Set-Top Vote Delay

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) has called on FCC chairman Tom Wheeler to delay his planned Sept. 29 vote on proposed new set-top box rules.

Most of the Hill pushback on Wheeler's proposal has centered on copyright and app licensing issues, but Heller is pulling out a different stop, saying his main sticking point is consumer privacy, that and the FCC process that produced the plan.

"I have concerns about how the FCC’s proposal requiring this approach will impact my constituents’ privacy and whether it is technology neutral," said Heller in a letter to Wheeler. 

The FCC is said to be planning to require device manufacturers to have to comply with cable privacy regs to get access to MVPD user data, since the FCC does not have authority over device privacy, but that bifurcated privacy oversight does not appear to sit well with Heller.

"[T]his rule will result in MVPDs handing over consumers’ personal information to third-party developers using their own platforms without addressing how that information can be utilized and what recourse consumers have if there is a data breach of third-party developers," said Heller. "This is not technology neutral and not beneficial to consumers. That is why I request that you delay voting on this proposal until these privacy concerns are resolved."

He also has problems with the process. "These issues also stem from the lack of transparency in the process leading up to the final proposal, the text of which has not been released to stakeholders, Congress, and the American public prior to a vote," he opined.

There were calls from both sides of the aisle to publish the text before the vote, including in a further notice of proposed rulemaking, which would have had the effect of delaying the vote for weeks if not months.

Heller said it was unacceptable that the FCC did not release the text. Not a surprise since he proposed legislation, which passed the Senate Commerce Committee, that would require the FCC to publish texts of items three weeks before a vote.

The sticking point is that items remain subject to change and edit right up until that vote, so the best an early text would be is a snapshot of a moving object, though that would at least provide a better sense of what is being considered.

The Wheeler FCC has released summaries and blogs about item contents before votes, but the Republicans argue that is often one side of the story, while they are prohibited from talking about the content of items before them. 

Interestingly, Heller is giving Wheeler until Oct. 12 to respond, long after the FCC will either have delayed the vote or commissioners will have cast theirs.

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.