Working with FCC on set-top proposal like ‘negotiating with a mime,’ indie programmers say

FCC headquarters

A pair of independent programmers used a pay-TV industry forum to criticize FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s alleged lack of transparency regarding his evolving set-top regulation proposal. 

“It’s like negotiating against a mime,” said Victor Cerda, a senior VP at the independent Spanish-language network Vme, describing discussions with FCC officials on the secretive proposal. Cerda was speaking Monday during a teleconference put on by the Future of TV Coalition, a group spearheaded by the NCTA and top pay-TV providers with the aim of challenging the Chairman’s set-top agenda. The event was covered by Morning Consult and other media. 

“We have to sit there and present it and hope that through their body language, we can glean some idea of what is being worked into the rule,” said Cerda.

Long story short: In February, Wheeler proposed “unlocking” the pay-TV’s leased proprietary set-top box business to open it up to third-party device makers like Google and TiVo. In September, he revised the controversial plan to conform to a key pay-TV industry wish — that it be based on multi-screen apps provided by the operators themselves.

However, a controversial element of the revised plan — that the FCC establish a committee to regulate the apps themselves — resulted in the Chairman not having the three Commission votes needed to move the NPRM forward. He delayed a vote on the NPRM at the last minute on Sept. 27, and no one outside the agency has seen what the fast-evolving proposal looks like since. 

On Oct. 6, Wheeler did lift the “sunshine” prohibition on the proposal, allowing stakeholders to at least lobby FCC officials on the matter.

RELATED: NCTA to Wheeler: Lifting the sunshine prohibitions on set-top proposal not enough

However, also speaking during the Future of TV forum Monday, Robert Rader, general counsel at the television network Ovation, said it’s hard to lobby on a proposal his company can’t see.

“What am I commenting on exactly?” Rader said. “I appreciate it, but it doesn’t give me anything meaningful to actually address."

“We’re in the communications industry,” Rader added. “And for us to get so little communication in how our own industry is being transformed — without our knowledge, without our participation in any genuine and meaningful way — it only can breed concern and a sort of anxiety.”