Lawmakers, civil rights groups tell Wheeler to stop keeping set-top proposal a secret

tom wheeler fcc
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) told FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to release his pay-TV industry set-top proposal to the public.

“Your new proposal is intended to benefit consumers, yet those same consumers are not currently able to read this far-reaching new plan,” Thune wrote in a letter to the Chairman, according to The Hill.

Wheeler’s proposal was scheduled to be voted on by the Commission on Sept. 29 but that vote has now been indefinitely delayed, suggesting the proposal, which would require pay-TV providers to make their content available via apps on third-party streaming devices, doesn’t have enough support to pass.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) are also calling on Wheeler to publish the text of the proposal and let the public comment.

For his part, Wheeler has said the public has been able to weigh in. In a statement released last week, Wheeler along with Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn seemed confident the proposal could still move ahead.

“It’s time for consumers to say goodbye to costly set-top boxes. It’s time for more ways to watch and more lower-cost options. That’s why we have been working to update our policies under Section 629 of the Communications Act in order to foster a competitive market for these devices. We have made tremendous progress – and we share the goal of creating a more innovative and inexpensive market for these consumer devices. We are still working to resolve the remaining technical and legal issues and we are committed to unlocking the set-top box for consumers across this country,” the commissioners said.

In addition to pressure from lawmakers to make the proposal public, Wheeler is facing demands from a legion of civil rights groups to make the details of his plan public. A group of organizations including the National Urban League, Asian America Justice Center, the Latino Coalition and the NAACP filed a joint petition asking the Chairman to lift the sunshine restrictions on the proposal.

“Since the start of this debate, civil rights leaders have consistently voiced clear concerns about the impact this rule will have on independent TV networks and the diversity of programming available to audiences in underserved communities. This outcry helped prompt major changes to the FCC’s proposal,” Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, said in a statement. “But because the FCC refuses to release the details, we have no idea whether the concerns we’ve voiced have been addressed.”

Morial said that Wheeler’s refusal to release the revised plan “makes a mockery of the process and violates the most basic principles of transparency.”

For more:
- read this The Hill article

Related articles:
MPAA joins Comcast and AT&T in lauding FCC’s set-top vote delay
Set-top box order pulled from FCC’s September meeting agenda at last minute