Top Dem Nelson Cautions Wheeler About Set-Top Proposal

Add the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) to those registering concerns with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's set-top box proposal. Nelson advised the FCC to take a "measured approach" to any rulemaking and warned against giving.

Wheeler has scheduled a Feb. 18 vote on his proposal to open MVPD set-top data and programming for access by third-party devices and apps. But it is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, so the final product could differ from that proposal after outside input.

In a letter to Wheeler dated Feb. 12, Nelson said he is all for the Communications Act mandate that navigation devices should be commercially available, and that consumers should have options for how they access and watch pay TV.

He said like many others, he "longs for the day when the clunky set-top box fades away."

But he was sounding more like former Republican FCC chair and National Cable & Telecommunications Association President and CEO Michael Powell than current chairman Wheeler as he ticked off ways the proceeding could go off track to the detriment of the video marketplace.

He said that even without FCC action, the fadeout of boxes "may be closer than we think."

"From smart TV's to Internet-based video platforms to Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and Google Chromecast, advances abound in the competitive video navigation device market," he told Wheeler.

And while Nelson says he supports the objective of enabling competition, he warned Wheeler that the FCC "should not proceed down a path to rules that fails to fully account for today's pay TV viewing landscape." He also said the FCC should not allow third parties to do more with programming content than "has been done through negotiated arrangements between content owners and their partners."

Nor should the FCC make it easier for third parties to gain for commercial advantage the ability to "alter, add to, or interfere with the programming provided by content providers."

He was making many of the points MVPDs have been making in advising the FCC that the marketplace is already opening up for competitive navigation devices, including apps.

Nelson told Wheeler that the commission should avoid taking "any action that could threaten the "vibrant" video programming market.

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.