House Dems back FCC's set-top proposal, attack 'aggressive campaign to spread misinformation'

Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Congressman Mark Takano (D-Calif.) have issued a joint letter urging their colleagues to support the FCC's plan to allow pay-TV customers to purchase their own third-party set-tops instead of renting while blasting the "aggressive campaign that has spread misinformation" since the original proposal.

"If you loved the Ma Bell model of being forced to use AT&T's equipment, you'll side with the cable industry's monopoly on set-top boxes, but the future clearly lies with competition and innovation. That's how consumers win," Eshoo and Takano wrote in the letter.

Eshoo and Takano name specifically name the Writers Guild of America – West, BET founder Robert L. Johnson, Fight for the Future, Common Cause, Public Knowledge and President Obama as supporters of the initiative. They don't call out anyone specifically for spreading misinformation.

Since FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal first surfaced in February, opposition has come from some of his fellow commissioners like Michael O'Rielly, industry groups like NCTA, and MSOs like Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA).

Last week, Comcast met with FCC officials to run down a litany of reasons to not pursue pay-TV set-top reform, including incompatibility with existing MVPD network code and potential negative impacts on network bandwidth by not the use of existing network management tools.

Comcast also urged the FCC to maintain the current non-standard for MVPD entitlements so MSOs can retain the flexibility to accommodate experimentation and changes in business models.

"In contrast, mandated standardization would have the effect of 'freezing' business models and delaying consumers' ability to access content in new ways until standards could be updated or new standards developed," Comcast wrote.

In their letter, Eshoo and Takano insist the FCC's proposal mandates an independent, open standards body to set a technology neutral standard that would allow any company to manufacture a set-top box or design but would not require the purchase of a second box.

They also say that the proposal won't promote copyright infringement and won't allow third parties to alter or remove ads sold by programmers.

On the same day Eshoo and Takano issued their letter, Wheeler addressed a crowd at the annual INTX show and defended his proposals.

"Competition is better than regulation, particularly in a fast-moving industry like this," he said. "But government has a role to say, 'Excuse me, first we have to get to competition."

Related articles:
Wheeler: Cable needs to welcome competition and change; FCC not so much
FCC's O'Rielly: Take the current set-top proposal and 'throw it in the garbage'
NCTA's Powell: 'Relentless government assault' has been launched against the cable industry
Comcast tells FCC it's not "feasible" to run its network code on third-party set-tops