President Lends Support to FCC Set-Top Box Rules

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By Lydia Beyoud

April 15 — President Barack Obama is lending his support to the broader aims of the Federal Communications Commission's set-top box proceeding through an April 15 filing in support of the measure.

“This seemed like a clear cut case where you could get a win for consumers and innovation,” Jason Furman, chairman for the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said during a press call.

“When the president gets involved, it's often when it's of real great importance to consumers, to competition and to the economy more broadly,” Furman said. He acknowledged there was a variety of support and opposition to the FCC's Feb. 18 notice of proposed rulemaking .

The proposed rule would require pay TV providers like Comcast Corp. and Dish Network Corp. to make their signals available to third-party device and software application developers. Analysts predict that such a measure could be a boon to tech giants like Alphabet Inc., formerly known as Google, and Apple Inc., who would be able to create new ad revenue streams through data analytics and selling consumer data.

Cable and satellite providers like Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable Inc., as well as content groups like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) have strongly faulted the proposed rule as potentially violating copyright law, introducing unnecessary regulation at a time when pay TV companies themselves are moving away from set-top boxes toward software applications, and as a give-away to the tech industry to generate more advertising revenue.

The proposal has also earned strong support from the public interest community and many Democratic lawmakers.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is eager to push the measure through during the remaining months of his tenure. If the rule is approved, likely along a 3-2 party-line vote, content providers and pay TV providers are likely to litigate, a process which would carry over into the next administration.

Pro-Competition Initiative

The White House also announced a broader initiative to be made through an executive order asking departments and agencies to provide feedback on areas where they can promote competition and pro-consumer measures, Furman said. Agencies will report back within 60 days.

The White House also released an issue brief on the state of declining competition and rising consolidation in the U.S. economy.

“Across our economy, too many consumers are dealing with inferior or overpriced products, too many workers aren’t getting the wage increases they deserve, too many entrepreneurs and small businesses are getting squeezed out unfairly by their bigger competitors, and overall we are not seeing the level of innovative growth we would like to see,” Furman said in an accompanying blog post.

“In the coming months, we’ll be doing everything we can across government to build on that progress and deliver on the pro-competition initiative we’re announcing today,” Furman said.

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

Text of the White House issue brief is at http://src.bna.com/d9l.