Under Cable Lobbying Assault, FCC Commissioners Waffling On Cable Box Competition Plan
from the $21-billion-reasons-to-fold dept
The cable industry’s relentless lobbying assault on the FCC’s plan to bring competition to the cable box appears to be working. As we’ve been covering, cable lobbyists have been filling editorial sections nationwide with all manner of misleading dreck, claiming the FCC’s plan (which you can read here (pdf)) will increase piracy, hinder innovation, hurt minorities, and rip giant holes in the time-space continuum. They’ve also engaged in the time-honored tradition of paying lawmakers that have no idea how technology works to make all manner of false claims about what the FCC’s plan actually does.
Unfortunately for those of you tired of paying the cable industry $21 billion annually to rent a shitty cable box, it looks like the efforts are working.
Two of the Democratic Commissioners that originally voted yes on the plan say they’re starting to get cold feet, surely only coincidentally after the cable industry decided to ramp up lobbying to levels not seen since 2009 to try and kill the plan. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, for example, is now claiming that the FCC plan she voted for is “too complicated” and that the FCC should compromise with the cable industry on some kind of new arrangement:
“Kudos to the chairman for kicking off this conversation [Rosenworcel voted along with Wheeler and Democrat Mignon Clyburn to kick off that conversation], but it has become clear the original proposal has real flaws and, as I have suggested before, is too complicated. We need to find another way forward.” She was not endorsing the cable effort, but instead appeared to be supporting the effort to find a compromise proposal that addresses the flaws. “I am glad that efforts are underway to hash out alternatives that provide consumers with more choice and more competition at lower cost.”
Except there’s nothing really that complicated or “flawed” about what the FCC is proposing. Under the plan, cable operators simply have to provide access to their programming — using systems and copy protection of their choice — to third-party hardware vendors without the need for a cable card. While there’s certainly some engineering challenges with the idea, the “complicated” part only really comes from the cable industry’s decision to fight cable box competition tooth and nail.
Meanwhile, the “compromise” referenced by the article that appears to have swayed Rosenworcel isn’t much of one. Instead of real cable box competition, the cable industry has proposed a plan whereby they simply have to deliver their programming via app — but consumers would still have to pay for a cable box if they want to do things like record via DVR. Consumer advocates and groups like INCOMPAS are warning that the cable industry will go out of is way in any voluntary proposal to find creative ways to continue forcing consumers to use their hardware and services.
And Rosenworcel doesn’t appear to be alone in waffling. Commissioner Mignon Clyburn also appears to be buckling under the weight of false narratives suggesting the FCC’s plan somehow needs to be rolled back, lest it damage “copyright, security and privacy”:
“We also asked Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn’s office if she still supports the original proposal and got this response: “Commissioner Clyburn appreciates and welcomes the constructive ?efforts by industry to put forward an alternative apps-based proposal. She continues to study the proposal with an eye towards a solution that adheres to Section 629 of the Communications Act; ensures truly competitive choice; enhances access to diverse programming; and provides the protections for copyright, security and privacy that consumers have come to expect.”
Note again that the two waffling commissioners don’t really provide any solid reasons why the FCC’s original proposal couldn’t work, but it’s pretty clear that they’ve been influenced — to one degree or another — by the paid sound wall cable lobbyists have constructed in trying to scuttle real cable box competition. With their fellow Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly voting no on the proposal (because voting no on consumer friendly policies is their entire purpose in life) and foundering support among Democratic commissioners, Wheeler won’t have the political firepower to get the plan approved.
Again that’s not the end of the world. The legacy cable TV industry’s empire is slowly crumbling with or without the FCC’s help, it will just take a little longer if the FCC doesn’t give the entire process a swift kick in the ass. If the FCC’s cable box proposal sinks, the agency has more time and calories to focus on what’s truly going to be important in the new streaming TV age: bringing real, sustained competition to bear on the broken U.S. broadband market.