Set-Tops: FCC May Exit App Standards Oversight

According to multiple sources, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's apps-based set-top box/navigation device proposal is getting a major tweak to get programmers on board.

While the proposal was to have had the FCC backstop an app licensing body to make sure agreements were reasonable and not anti-competitive, industry sources said Wednesday the FCC will no longer have that explicit oversight role and, instead, would review the app standards process after a couple of years and step in then, if necessary.

For the Hollywood studios, having the FCC potentially change the terms of contracts is a nonstarter, as it was for various Hill Democrats, especially on the Justice committees that deal with copyright.

The item is still in flux, said an FCC source, but it was moving toward that major adjustment.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler signaled two weeks ago there would be further stakeholder talks and that he was willing to tweak his proposal to address concerns about the licensing body and copyright .

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has had issues with the FCC's role in the licensing body and copyrights, as well, so that could be a way to secure her vote, which is crucial to approving the proposal.

Wheeler has maintained his plan would not have affected contracts or created a compulsory license, but critics were not convinced given the language in the chairman's proposal about the FCC serving "as a backstop to ensure that nothing in the standard license will harm the marketplace for competitive devices."

Wheeler was urged by by many to delay the vote or seek comment on his proposal, which was a major pivot from his original "unlock the box" plan. But the FCC is still scheduled to vote on the proposal Thursday (Sept. 29), in what will likely be a marathon meeting given the full agenda, which includes, among other things, a programming diversity notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) and an order streamlining broadcast purchases with foreign investment.

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.