Comcast, Charter, AT&T lament app-based set-top proposal they lobbied for, call it regulatory over-reach

Left to right: FCC Commissioners Tom Wheeler, Mignon Clyburn, Jessica Rosenworcel, Ajit Pai and Michael C. O'Rielly. Image: AP

While pay-TV’s biggest operators seem to have won a regulatory victory with the FCC, dramatically altering its set-top proposal and moving it toward an app-based solution the industry lobbied for, they’re hardly pleased with the outcome.

“While we appreciate that Chairman Wheeler has abandoned his discredited proposal to break apart cable and satellite services, his latest tortured approach is equally flawed,” said Comcast VP of Government Communication Sena Fitzmaurice in a statement. 

“He claims that his new proposal builds on the marketplace success of apps, but in reality, it would stop the apps revolution dead in its tracks by imposing an overly complicated government licensing regime and heavy-handed regulation in a fast-moving technological space,” Fitzmaurice added. “The Chairman’s new proposal also violates the Communications Act and exceeds the FCC’s authority. It perpetuates many of the concerns that led hundreds of members of Congress, content creators, diversity and civil rights organizations, labor unions and over 300,000 individuals to object to his original flawed approach, including problems with privacy, copyright protection, content security and innovation.”

Added Charter: “Enabling consumers to use apps instead of set-top boxes may be a valid goal, but the marketplace is already delivering on the goal without overreaching government intervention. The FCC’s mandate threatens to bog down with regulations and bureaucracy the entire TV app market that consumers are increasingly looking to for innovation, choice and competition.”

For its part, AT&T Senior VP of Federal Regulatory Bob Quinn lauded Wheeler’s revised proposal for recognizing “what we’ve been saying all along – apps are the future.”

Concerns about privacy and copyright protection remain, however. 

“Presumably, like the old proposal, the data stream itself (which doesn’t exist today) will have to utilize a technology that must be created using a standard yet to be determined and issued by a standards body yet to be identified,” Quinn said. “The only thing certain is that consumers have to have it in two years. Sound complicated? You honestly need a flow chart to follow this. The lack of answers to these same fundamental questions at this stage of the proceeding is disturbing, to say the least.”

He added, “Second, rather than allowing the MVPDs to enter into license agreements with third parties’ competitive navigation device providers, as they do today, the FCC is concocting a separate licensing body that would create (dictate) a single, one size fits all license to cover all apps and all MVPDs. This licensing body would create the terms of the license (and be the sole enforcer of the license), but the FCC would state up front what terms need to be included and would review the licensing terms, striking out what terms they do not like. While the new proposal states that the FCC will only serve as a backstop, the reality is that the FCC reserves the right to dictate and approve the terms of the license. Exactly the flaw that led the Copyright Office to declare the original Google Fiber proposal a non-starter, stating that it did not “respect the authority of creators to manage the exploitation of their copyrighted works through private licensing arrangements.’”

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