Wheeler: Set-Top Proposal Should Include Some Cable Suggestions

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said Thursday that he believes the final order on set-top boxes will include "many of the suggestions" in cable's "ditch the box" proposal, though he did not say how many or which.

That came in a press conference following the FCC's Aug. 4 public meeting.

“We are writing a report and order that will be presented to the commissioners,” he said. “I believe that many of their [cable industry] suggestions will be adopted."

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association has proposed an apps-based approach to both making its content searchable alongside over-the-top offerings while protecting copyright, advertising, and how their services are presented and packaged according to contractual arrangements with programmers.

Wheeler also said that to the degree that the Copyright Office was concerned that the proposal "would deliver it [programming] to third parties who are not in privity with copyright owners...We will not create a rule that forces that to happen."

That was a reference to a letter the office sent to Congress this week outlining its concerns with the impact of Wheeler's "unlock the box" proposal on copyrights and contracts. “Privity” is contract law legalese for a close, mutual relationship among parties, like, say, a contract.

Wheeler said that the NPRM was meant to "smoke out" such issues and be responsive to them.

Wheeler said there would be an order on set-tops, and that it would fulfill the congressional mandate that there be a competitive marketplace for navigation devices.

The principles of that order, he told reporters, they could "take to the bank" included that contract and copyright enforcement must exist; that “we want to” protect consumer privacy and network security; that “we want to” simplify the order and its implementation—commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, whose vote he would need, has said it is too complicated; and that “we want to” give consumers the choice "they have long been denied, and in so doing comply with the law.”

He added that, "make no mistake," there will be an order on set-tops, saying the FCC was only obeying the law Congress laid down on competition.

On the issue of NPRMs, Wheeler reminded his audience that he said when he first came to the FCC that rather than just say "hey, this is what we are thinking about," NPRMs would be more focused and put out a set of proposed rules for the purpose of smoking out the issues. So, he said, NPRM language starts changing the minute it goes out the door.

Wheeler did not respond to a question about Comcast's request in the broadband privacy proceeding that the FCC allow an ISP to give consumers a discount for allowing ISPs to use and share behavioral data, beyond saying: "I hope privacy doesn't become a luxury item."

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.