Set-Top Proposal Worries Some House Judiciary Members

A bipartisan quintet of House Judiciary Committee members wants FCC chairman Tom Wheeler and the other commissioners to answer some questions about the chairman's set-top box proposal before voting on it, adding to the growing number of legislators expressing concerns about the impact of the proposal on contractual relationships.

The letter was dated Feb. 16 and the vote is planned for Feb. 18.

They said they wrote to express their concerns with the proposal, particularly its impact on independent programmers.

"Regulation in this space has the potential to upend ties between creators, channel providers, and cable companies--and jeopardize the rights of creators to negotiate directly with those selling their work to consumers...."

"We are concerned...that the Commissioner’s new proposal could undermine this creative ecosystem by enabling companies to make money distributing content without negotiating with creators – an approach that conflicts with the copyright law established by Congress.... Regulation in this space has the potential to drastically weaken the economics of the legitimate businesses that have fueled so much of the innovation and consumer choice that has taken place during the last decade."

That is one of the points that cable operators and others in the Future of Television Coalition have made in criticizing the proposal to "unlock" set-top content and data and make it available for repackaging with online content by third party navigation devices.

The questions they want answered included how the FCC will make sure unlicensed copies of creative works are not "promoted to viewers, how it can guard against malware and cybersecurity risks on new devices, how it will insure that independent/minority programmers are not adversely impacted, how the FCC will insure third parties 'negotiate directly with content creators before they use the content for their own commercial purposes,' and whether third parties will share fees for their new services with content creators, for example, how ads they might sell 'around' the cable content 'flow back to rightsholders and the royalty-, pension-, and benefit plans of the film and television workforce.'"

For its part, the Writers Guild of America West, which represents some of those content creators, supports the proposal and argues it will be a boon to independent programmers.

Signing on to the letter were Reps. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and Mimi Waters (R-Calif.).

An FCC spokesperson said the letter had been received and was being reviewed.

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.