New Congressional Caucus Pushes for Pause on FCC's Set-Top Box Proposal

set top box

A newly formed congressional caucus representing the interests of minority-owned media is pushing for the Federal Communications Commission to put its proposal to open the pay-TV set-top box market on pause.

Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) announced the formation of the Congressional Caucus on Multi-Cultural Media at a May 19 press event. The group is being created, she said, "to evaluate and address the issues this sector faces in the current and evolving landscape of our nation’s media platforms." The first initiative it's taking up is the set-top box proposal.

The FCC is still collecting comments on its notice of proposed rulemaking intended to create a competitive market for set-top boxes by allowing third parties to obtain video streams and programming information from pay-TV providers and offer alternatives to set-top boxes. The third parties would qualify to operate through a self-certification mechanism intended to ensure compliance with privacy, security and copyright laws and regulations.

"I [have] concerns about the FCC proposal, particularly the agency’s effort to rush through an opening up of the video interface functions without examining a myriad of concerns raised, from privacy to piracy to the impact on small and multicultural media. I have repeatedly asked, what’s the rush?" Clarke said.

Clarke and the new caucus are calling on the FCC to halt any further action on the set-top box proposal, at least until the Congressional Research Service and the Government Accountability Office are able to complete studies evaluating the impact it would have on multicultural media. Clarke told reporters that she isn't ruling out legislation that would seek to block or supersede the proposal if the FCC moves forward with it.

Clarke's fellow founding members of the caucus are Reps. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas), Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) and Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Clarke spokeswoman Jahneille Edwards told Bloomberg BNA.

Butterfield joined Clarke at the event, along with several executives from media companies including TV One and Viacom Inc.'s BET Networks. The executives argued that the proposal would degrade the value of advertising on their networks by allowing third-party set-top box providers to add their own, cheaper ad space to the navigation experience, and that it could harm their ability to measure how many people are watching their programming, among other concerns.