FCC's Wheeler: ‘Trust, But Verify' Industry Set-Top Box Plan

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By Lydia Beyoud

Ronald Reagan isn't a usual reference point for Democratic Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, but the agency head is expected to point to one of Reagan's famous quips when he testifies on Capitol Hill July 12 about a pay-TV industry set-top box proposal.

“I am following President Reagan’s good advice, ‘trust, but verify,'” Wheeler said in prepared remarks for a House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee FCC oversight hearing.

Wheeler also called, in his prepared statement, for more information from companies such as AT&T Inc.'s DirecTV and Comcast Corp. to understand how the industry plan would benefit consumers. The industry is pitching its plan as an alternative to an FCC proposal.

“We need to understand more of the details of its proposal, as well as the perspectives of all the other stakeholders,” Wheeler said in the prepared testimony.

Lawmakers are likely to question Wheeler about his proposal to transform the pay-TV set-top box market by fostering competition in a retail market. Republicans and Democrats are likely to press Wheeler on how he intends to protect consumer privacy and content creators' copyrights while bringing about more competition for devices and applications able to navigate pay-TV content. A majority staff memo prepared for the hearing outlined those questions, among others.

More than 180 Republican and Democratic lawmakers have already weighed in opposing or cautioning against the FCC's original set-top box proposal.

Broadband Privacy Proposal

House lawmakers also are expected to focus on Wheeler's proposal to give consumers more control over how their broadband providers collect and share their data.

Republicans oppose that proposal, which they say creates a divergence between how broadband providers and large tech companies such as Alphabet Inc.'s Google and Facebook Inc. monetize personal data. Broadband companies fear the FCC's rules may restrict their ability to grow advertising as a new revenue stream, such as Verizon Communications Inc. intended with its acquisition of AOL.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will be homing in on the same subject at a simultaneous July 12 hearing.

Eight tech and telecom associations wrote to the leaders of the Senate committee July 11, asking them to put pressure on the FCC to take a different approach, more in line with the Federal Trade Commission's case-by-case enforcement regime.

“The FCC’s proposed rules are also seriously out of step with the technology-neutral approach – applied to both ISPs and non-ISPs – that that (sic) has guided the Administration’s many efforts on privacy and cybersecurity policy, with great success,” the coalition said in their letter.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lydia Beyoud in Washington at lbeyoud@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

For More Information

Prepared testimony and subcommittee memos are at http://src.bna.com/gFT.

Text of the letter is at http://src.bna.com/gFU.

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