FCC's O'Rielly: Take the current set-top proposal and 'throw it in the garbage'

BOSTON -- Dismissing their FCC Commission colleagues' claim that the current "Unlock the Box" set-top debate represents a healthy exchange of ideas, Republican Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly described the discussion as a sham with an outcome already pre-determined by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

"I believe it's already done — it's cooked," said O'Rielly, speaking alongside his three commission colleagues in a rare public gathering at the INTX trade show today. "At the end of the day, this proposal put forth by the Chairman is what's going to be voted on. I predict it will happen in October."

"It's another case of sentence first, verdict later," concurred fellow GOP commissioner Ajit Pai. "I believe the decision has already been made, and the [Chairman's office] is not open to different points of view.

Eliciting applause from the partisan crowd of cable industry denizens, O'Rielly declared, "I would take the current proposal and throw it in the garbage. That's where it belongs."

The four FCC commissioners who appeared on Tuesday's panel — which served as a taping of the CNBC show Communicators — will vote later this year, alongside Wheeler, on a proposal to open the leased pay-TV set-top business to third-party manufacturers. 

Pai and O'Rielly support the cable industry's claim that the concept of the set-top box is becoming obsolete and the regulation is unnecessary. 

For their part, Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn attempted to describe the set-top debate as a healthy discussion focused on consumer interests. 

"While I know there's a lot of emotion and people on various sides of the fence, the fact that we're having this conversation and not passing down any edicts speaks well of this process," Clyburn said. 

The exchange — which is rare, since Sunshine Act laws limit how cooperatively FCC commissioners can make decision — was cordial. 

But Pai and O'Rielly issued strident beliefs to the crowd that the set-top proposal — as well as other recent proposals aimed at broadband privacy and special access — are wastes of agency time.

"There's so much the FCC can do and should be doing, but we spend so much time on things like the set-top issue and the special access issue," O'Rielly said. 

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