McConnell Urges FCC to Rethink Set-Top Box Rules

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By Lydia Beyoud

June 10 — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged the Federal Communications Commission to back away from plans to open up the pay-TV set-top box market, in a June 10 letter obtained by Bloomberg BNA.

McConnell (R-Ky.) joined a chorus of fellow lawmakers from both parties who have raised concerns with the FCC's approach in recent months. His opposition makes what was already an uphill battle for the commission to win support for its plan among lawmakers even tougher.

The FCC's proposal would allow companies such as Apple Inc. and TiVo Inc. to access content through pay-TV systems, in the hope of creating a flourishing retail market for devices that 99 percent of consumers currently rent from cable and satellite providers, according to FCC statistics. The pay-TV industry, including Comcast Corp. and Dish Network Corp., opposes the plan.

Dozens of lawmakers from both parties have sent letters to the agency in recent weeks questioning the proposal. A handful of senior House and Senate Democrats back it.

Lawmakers are targeting the FCC's plan in fiscal year 2017 spending bills that would fund the agency. The House Appropriations Committee approved a draft 2017 appropriations bill on June 9 that would prevent the agency from moving forward with the set-top box proposal until after a study is completed.

Copyright Concerns

McConnell said the proposal could harm copyright protections for content providers and distributors and make it more costly for rural pay-TV providers to serve their customers.

“Rather than applying a light regulatory touch, the FCC would require existing programming distributors to provide the copyrighted programming they have licensed from content providers to third party manufacturers and app developers, none of whom would be bound by the agreements to protect this content,” McConnell wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

McConnell urged the agency to “reconsider moving forward” with its proposal.

Wheeler rebuffed copyright concerns and other worries that other lawmakers had raised earlier, in letters to other lawmakers released June 10.

“I am confident that these FCC-specific authorities and well-practiced contractual arrangements will safeguard the legitimate interests of all of the participants in the video ecosystem,” Wheeler wrote.

Wheeler said the FCC intends to encourage competition and fulfill a statutory mandate to give consumers “meaningful choice” in the cable box and pay-TV app market.

Wheeler told lawmakers that third-party competitors to major pay-TV providers such as Comcast Corp. and AT&T Inc. “should not be ‘making commercial use of or modifying copyrighted programming' as a result of this action to fulfill the statute's directive.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Lydia Beyoud in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at

For More Information

Text of McConnell's letter is at

Text of Wheeler's correspondence is at