Urban League to FCC: Push 'Pause' on Set-Top Proposal

The National Urban League has told the FCC it should take no action on its navigation device/set-top "unlocking" proposal until it has conducted a study of its impact on diversity, including taking into account input from an access to video distribution platforms it just launched last month and is likely to take many more months.

And when the FCC has completed the programming access inquiry and study, they want the FCC to extend an ensuing comment period by three months.

That would likely push any FCC action until late 2016 or early 2017.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler signed by more than a dozen diversity advocates including Al Sharpton of the National Action Network, Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition and the director of the NAACP's Washington office, Urban League et al. pointed to the lack of diversity in the Silicon Valley companies they said the FCC proposal would empower.

Related: Stakeholders Weigh In on Set-Top Decision

"After convening multiple meetings and briefings to hear both sides in this important debate, we believe that an analysis regarding this proposal’s impact on diversity and inclusion must move to the center of the Commission’s actions," they wrote.

The FCC has proposed making the programming, guide and VOD info in cable set-tops available to third parties.

"After years of resisting disclosure, many tech giants released their employment diversity numbers for the first time in 2014, which highlighted an astonishing lack of inclusion," they wrote.

The questions they want the FCC to answer before taking action -- and this list is not exhaustive, they said -- are: "Will unlocking the set top box serve the goal of increasing media, content and ownership diversity compared to the current system?

"Could unlocking the box result in less diversity and fewer successful minority programmers and content producers? If so, what is the projected data on the extent/size of the disparity that would result? If not, what is the projected data on the extent/size of diversity gains?

"What type of new opportunities and/or harms will unlocking the set top box create for minority programmers and content producers?

"What are the costs and/or savings associated for minority programmers and content producers?"

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.