from the fighting-competition-for-the-people dept
Last year, the FCC unveiled a new plan that would require cable operators make their content available via app for third-party cable boxes and other streaming hardware. The goal was to bring a little added competition and openness to the clunky old cable box. But because the FCC's plan would have not only eroded the cable industry's walled-garden control over content -- but $20 billion in annual cable box rental fees -- the cable industry, broadcasters, Congressional allies and even the US Copyright Office got right to work lying about the plan -- repeatedly.
Via an absolute sound wall of disinformation, these collective allies claimed that the FCC's plan would violate copyright (false), confuse consumers (nope), harm minorties (not true), result in skyrocketing piracy (well, no), hurt puppies, and tear a giant hole in the time-space continuum. With these claims popping up in hundreds of newspaper op-ed sections and websites nationwide, the FCC's plan soon ran into some stiff headwinds, with even some of the initial FCC supporters of the plan backing away from it. It was, frankly, one of the most effective lobbying and disinformation campaigns the cable industry has ever fielded.
With the plan on life support, cable industry Congressional allies are now demanding the plan be formally put out of its misery. In a letter sent to new, ultra-industry friendly FCC boss Ajit Pai (pdf), Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Marsha Blackburn, and Energy and Commerce Committee Vice Chairman Joe Barton urged Pai to close the docket on the set-top box proceeding.
The letter unsurprisingly mirrors most of the falsehoods used by the cable industry to derail the plan, including the idea that bringing competition to the cable box would somehow hamper the cable industry's incredible knack for innovation:
"The regulatory overhang of the set-top box regulation has cast a shadow over investment and innovation in traditional video programming delivery. [W]e urge you to close the proceeding and permit the industry to innovate and serve consumers free from the restrictions of a government-chosen platform."
Of course the whole point of the FCC's plan was to avoid "chosen platforms" entirely, giving consumers the ability to view existing cable content on any device. The letter then proceeds to stroll casually through all of the lies the cable industry has been spreading about the plan for most of the last year, including claims that cable box competition would harm minorities, would harm copyright, and result in nobody making decent television programming ever again:
"The FCC's proposal remains an unnecessary regulatory threat to the content creation and distribution industries. Content creators have argued that the proposed set-top box pan undermined their ability to protect copyrights and contracts. Without a clear indication that the Commission rejects this current proposal, content creators will be hesitant to invest in high-quality video programs. Minority programming creators, in particular, have argued that the Commission's proposal would rob them of audiences and the benefits of hard-negotiated contracts, ultimately limiting the availability of diverse programming to viewers."
That is, once again, all nonsense. This has always been about control, not copyright. The FCC's plan kept all the same copyright protection and licensing contracts intact. And providing consumers access to more content viewing options over less expensive and more open hardware would have only helped minorities and consumers. Meanwhile the claim that art creation will cease to occur completely should ring a few memory bells for those familiar with the recording industry's long-standing myopic frontal assault on natural market evolution.
For the record I never thought the cable box plan was the best use of the agency's time. To me, it seemed like streaming alternatives would force cable to adapt anyway, even if it would have probably taken half-a-decade longer without this FCC nudge. Instead, I thought the FCC would have been better served spending its regulatory calories on the real problem facing consumers and the streaming sector: the lack of broadband competition, and the resulting anti-competitive shenanigans this lack of competition helps cement -- from net neutrality violations to arbitrary and unnecessary broadband usage caps.
Still, the government's willful participation in a massive disinformation and lobbying campaign whose sole function was to protect the cable industry revenues from competition is no less disgusting. Particularly the involvement of the US Copyright Office, and the failure of media outlets to clearly highlight the cable industry financial tethers obviously affixed to countless op-eds and media missives aimed at undermining what really was just an attempt to bring a little competition to a monopolized hardware market.
Given that the new FCC boss is a former Verizon lawyer with a long, proud history of supporting incumbent ISPs and giant cable providers in absolutely everything -- it shouldn't be long before the FCC's cable box plan is finally put out of its misery. Following not-too-far behind should be the FCC's new broadband privacy rules, net neutrality, and, if Trump's advisors mean what they say, the FCC's role as a consumer watchdog itself. You know, to protect minorities, the children, and innovation.