Back to the (secret) drawing board for FCC set top box plan

17 September 2016 by Steve Blum
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Shhhh. No one else is supposed to know.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler’s plan to set up an industry licensing board to review apps created by pay TV providers that will allow third-party set top boxes to access their programming is slowing down, if not dead in the water. The senior republican and democrat on the house judiciary committee – Bob Goodlatte (R – Virginia) and John Conyers (D – Michigan) – released a joint statement yesterday blasting the plan, saying “there are many unresolved questions about this proposal, not the least of which is the fundamental question of whether the Federal Communication Commission even has the authority to create such a regime”.

That follows sceptical comments about the licensing scheme from three of Wheeler’s fellow commissioners, republicans Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly and democrat Jessica Rosenworcel.

Even Wheeler himself backpedaled, telling a congressional committee that the policy, at this point, is only “90 percent there” and discussions with stakeholders – industry lobbyists, in other words, continues.

Part of the problem is no one outside of the FCC knows what’s actually in the proposed set top box rules. No one except, apparently, the stakeholders who are negotiating with Wheeler. Conyers and Goodlatte have a problem with that, too. They sent him a letter asking him to make his draft plan public…

While much remains unknown, what is clear at this point is that the proposal would benefit from more public process. Different versions of this proposal have circulated for many months now, and while staff for both committees has held numerous discussions with Commission staff and other stakeholders, we have received conflicting accounts about this proposal. Absent a public vetting of the Commission’s proposal, it is unclear what the Commission is planning, let alone its impact.

Without further delay, we request that you release the text of the proposal.

That’s not the way business is done at the FCC, though. Draft decisions are kept secret until after – sometimes long after – approval by commissioners. A vote on the set top box plan, whatever it is, is scheduled for 29 September 2016.