Wheeler: TV's Golden Age being 'blunted by incumbent pay-TV providers'

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Monday delivered the latest bit of acrimony between himself and the cable industry for which he used to serve as a lobbyist when he told a D.C. conference conducted by INCOMPAS that the pay-TV industry is blunting TV's so-called "Golden Age" of endless quality programming choices.

"Notably, it can be artificially blunted by incumbent pay-TV providers, who can play both ends against the consumer in the middle – by supplying broadband connectivity to online video providers while at the same time competing with these emerging video providers for viewers," Wheeler said in prepared remarks.

"My concerns about video competition ties together a number of high-profile issues that have come before the Commission, notably the proposed mergers of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, which we rejected, and the AT&T/DirecTV deal, which we approved with conditions," Wheeler added.

The FCC Chairman took the opportunity to plug his proposal to revamp pay-TV set-top regulations, a move that has been very unpopular in the industry.

"Our set-top box item speaks to the issue of competition in the video marketplace as well," he said. "Ninety-nine percent of pay-TV customers lease set-top boxes from their cable, satellite or telco providers. On average, consumers are paying $231 a year to rent those boxes, collectively $20 billion. Yes, despite Congress's mandate, they have no competitive choice."

"Our proposal protects copyright and consumer privacy," he added. "There are those, however, who see shortcomings in our proposal. Whether these concerns are more than a smokescreen for their overall opposition will be determined by whether there is input about how best to write language to accomplish our goal of protecting copyright and privacy. We believe our proposal clearly protects both copyright and privacy, but if it can be made better, we are open for suggestions."

For more:
- read this transcript of Chairman Wheeler's remarks

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