Comcast Already Whining About New FCC Cable Box Plan, Despite It Being The Cable Industry's Idea

from the ignore-the-man-behind-the-curtain dept

We've noted how the FCC's plan to bring competition to the cable box fell apart over the last few months, thanks to a massive disinformation effort by the cable industry involving a flood of hugely misleading editorials and some help from the US Copyright Office. In short the cable industry used a sound wall of hired voices to claim that cable box competition would hurt consumer privacy, violate copyright, result in a huge spike in piracy, and was even racist. Despite these claims being nonsense, the unprecedented PR campaign managed to sway several FCC Commissioners that had originally voted yes on the proposal.

With his ally commissioners waffling on the original plan, FCC boss Tom Wheeler was forced to offer up a new watered down proposal (pdf). Under the new plan, cable operators would have two years to develop apps that let all cable customers access content (small cable ops are exempt) on the streaming hardware of their choice. In an editorial defending the plan being circulated to numerous websites, Wheeler makes it abundantly clear that cable providers can use any standard of their choice to develop the app, and have control of their content from end to end:
"While our primary focus during this proceeding was to promote consumer choice and fulfill our congressional mandate, we recognize that protecting the legitimate copyright interests of content creators is also key to serving the public interest. To ensure that all copyright and licensing agreements will remain intact, the delivery of pay-TV programming will continue to be overseen by pay-TV providers from end-to-end. The proposed rules also maintain important protections regarding emergency alerting, accessibility and privacy."
Except the copyright concerns weren't legitimate, because cable box competition has nothing to do with copyright. The cable industry's opposition to real cable box competition is driven by two simple things: a desire to retain control as users flee legacy TV (or more accurately the illusion of control), and a desire to protect $20 billion in annual revenue from cable box rental fees. But the sector obviously can't just come out and say this, so instead they've hidden their motivation behind a litany of hyperbole and bloviation.

Amusingly, it was the cable industry that originally approached an "app based" alternative to Wheeler's initial plan (the flaws in which we've previously dissected here). Yet it didn't take Comcast long to circulate a statement to various press outlets stating that it didn't like this new proposal, either:
"While we appreciate that Chairman Wheeler has abandoned his discredited proposal to break apart cable and satellite services, his latest tortured approach is equally flawed. He claims that his new proposal builds on the marketplace success of apps, but in reality, it would stop the apps revolution dead in its tracks by imposing an overly complicated government licensing regime and heavy-handed regulation in a fast-moving technological space.
By "discredited" proposal, Comcast means that it paid an ocean of think tankers, academics, lobbyists, consultants and others to lambaste the plan at every conceivable opportunity (with news outlets rarely disclosing the financial ties). And by "fast moving technological space" Comcast means a sector historically known for doing everything in its power to not only cripple consumer choice, but punish consumers for seeking out better alternatives to legacy TV. And again, the FCC effectively gave the cable sector the app-based approach its own lobbyists pushed for, and Comcast's still not happy:
"It perpetuates many of the concerns that led hundreds of Members of Congress, content creators, diversity and civil rights organizations, labor unions, and over 300,000 individuals to object to his original flawed approach, including problems with privacy, copyright protection, content security, and innovation. Heavy-handed government technology mandates have a long history of failure. The Chairman’s approach would likely meet the same fate, while causing real damage to the thriving apps marketplace and real harm to consumers."
Again, it's wise of Comcast to avoid mentioning that Comcast paid for, either overtly or covertly, the lion's share of opposition to the FCC's plan. It's also probably smart of Comcast to avoid mentioning that the FCC's counter proposal is almost exactly what cable industry lobbyists asked for. The FCC says it will vote (again) on its cable box proposal at its meeting on September 29, meaning the next few weeks you'll see a barrage of new editorials trying to claim that cable box competition will hurt the children, frighten puppies, and almost certainly rip a giant hole in the time-space continuum.

Filed Under: apps, competition, copyright, fcc, set top boxes
Companies: comcast


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 9 Sep 2016 @ 4:45am

    Political bait and switch

    Offer a 'compromise' that's more 'reasonable' than the current plan, then when the previous plan is abandoned blame the other side for the 'compromise', claim that it's 'too burdensome' and insist that everything is just fine the way it is because look at how many times you claim that there's just so much innovation and healthy competition!

    I'd call Comcast out on their laughably obvious ploy but given it's been working so far at conning stupid politicians why would they bother changing it now?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2016 @ 8:08am

      Re: Political bait and switch

      Indeed, they never wanted the compromise in the first place. The only reason they even crafted it was to make the FCC's first plan look burdensome.

      Now they will propose a compromise on the compromise and so on and so forth until one of two things happen: 1) The result they get is effectively no different than the status quo or 2) they compromise on one small thing but sneak in something else that lets them move the whole situation in the other direction towards them having even more control than before.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tim R (profile), 9 Sep 2016 @ 7:17am

    Utter BS

    "the next few weeks you'll see a barrage of new editorials trying to claim that cable box competition will hurt the children, frighten puppies, and almost certainly rip a giant hole in the time-space continuum."

    I think that's an incredibly shallow, insensitive, hyperbolic statement to make, and you should be ashamed of yourself, Karl. We're sick and tired of being marginalized in this discussion, and demand that you be more inclusive next time.

    Signed,
    The War On Terror and The War On Drugs

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2016 @ 8:19am

    Maybe....

    Tom Wheeler is playing everyone for a fool. This would not be the first time that someone in a position of authority "acts" like they are working in the interests of the public while doing nothing more than putting on a good show for the onlooking plebeians.

    You may not be able to fool everyone all of the time, but you sure can fool most people, most of the time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    David (profile), 9 Sep 2016 @ 8:44am

    How is using an off-the-shelf cable box any different than using an off-the-shelf modem for my internet? I've been using a modem I bough thru Amazon and Comcast didn't complain. I just had to register my modem's MAC address. I would think the same method should work with cable boxes. Everything is TCP/IP anyway. Just use the existing capabilities. Using that method, I should be able to go without a cable box and buy a TV with cable capability or run an app on my PC.

    Alternately, provide cable the same as NetFlix, Hulu, Amazon or any of the other streaming services. Then I could use my cable anywhere.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mark Wing, 9 Sep 2016 @ 2:22pm

    My set top box is a desktop PC and most of my friends and family have a similar setup. That's gotta scare the hell out of shitty companies like Comcast.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      420quest (profile), 10 Sep 2016 @ 1:40am

      Re: Comcast scared?

      I think they've paid off the right people long enough that there isn't anything they want that they don't get (they've essentially won at monopoly). And should the profits start to drop a little from cable cutters they'll just raise the rates a little more than normal (like they do every year).

      It's a beast with a bottomless pit of an appetite and a desire to control everything it shits out. There's no hope for this.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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