Sen. Thune to Wheeler: 'Consumer-empowering disruption already happening' to pay-TV set-top market

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler received some pushback on his controversial pay-TV set-top proposal while appearing in a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday.

"The FCC recently proposed a partisan rulemaking to have the government somehow better produce results than the astonishing and consumer-empowering disruption that is already happening," said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Thune quoted a letter sent earlier to Wheeler from ranking Commerce Committee member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who noted that through apps, the pay-TV ecosystem has already been opened to a range of third-party devices, including Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and smart TVs.

During his portion of testimony, FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly, a critic of the proposal, said,  "I don't believe when you look at the text of the language, which talks about boxes, which talks about interactive communications equipment, and other equipment, that it gets to an application-only world. I think it is overbroad and penalizing going forward."

Wheeler, meanwhile, assured the committee that his proposal wouldn't allow third-party device makers to interfere with programmer copyrights and channel guide positioning. "That which the cable operators put out should remain sacrosanct and untouched," Wheeler said.

Speaking on another controversial FCC regulatory mandate, the year-old Title II Internet regulation regime, Wheeler insisted that the rule have not had a chilling effect on investment into broadband infrastructure.

He noted what he said was a 13 percent uptick in fiber investment over the last year.

"We are not seeing a decline in broadband infrastructure investment," Wheeler said. "You can say it and say it and say it, but that does not make it a fact."

Again, Wheeler was at odds with his agency's Republican commissioners, with Ajit Pai suggesting that pending cable merger, including Charter's (NASDAQ: CHTR) proposed merger with Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC), may be giving Wheeler a skewed viewpoint of the market.

Pai said it's "striking to see what CEOs with pending mergers before the FCC will say about the FCC's top priorities."

For more:
- read this Variety story
- read this Multichannel News story

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