Congressional Committee Officially Asks FCC To Kill Set-Top Box Reform

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If you had any hope of being able to get your cable box from someone other than your cable company (or paying Tivo’s ridiculously high prices and subscription fees), you should probably just throw that hope into the garbage bin. One Congressional committee — the head of which has been heavily funded by the pay-TV and broadcast industries — has officially called on new FCC Chair Ajit Pai to scuttle the agency’s stalled efforts to make set-top boxes better and more affordable.

Earlier this week, the Republican members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce sent a letter [PDF] to Pai, asking him to close the FCC docket on set-top box reform, saying it would “provide industry and consumers with a clear understanding of the FCC’s assessment and plan of action.”

The lawmakers accuse recently exited FCC Chair Tom Wheeler of going rogue in developing his final proposal, claiming it “stalled for lack of support.”

They contend that this proposal “remains an unnecessary regulatory threat to the content creation and distribution industries.”

Speaking of which, the biggest signature on this letter come from a lawmaker who just happened to receive the largest chunk of his amount of campaign funding from the “content creation and distribution industries.”

The top two donors to the campaign of Rep. Greg Walden (OR), Chairman of this committee, were the National Association of Broadcasters and Comcast, accounting for nearly $170,000 total. Also among the top contributors to Walden’s campaign — AT&T, 21st Century Fox, Verizon, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, and Google’s parent company Alphabet. In all, the communications/electronics sector accounted for $739,000 in Walden campaign contributions, more than any other sector.

Even though the set-top box reform effort is dead in the water, Walden’s letter justifies its demise by parroting debunked industry talking points, the most blatantly false of which is that opening up the set-top box market would harm programmers of minority programming.

In fact, all of the industry copy/paste that Walden partakes in with this letter has little or nothing to do with the allegedly rogue proposal that Wheeler ultimately planned to bring for a vote.

That proposal would have scrapped the entire concept of opening up set-top boxes to new manufacturers, and instead have merely mandated that pay-TV providers make a variety of apps that would serve as set-top box replacements — an idea that the industry itself had suggested as an alternative.

And so American pay-TV customers will continue to fork over billions of dollars a year in set-top box fees. While the industry may not make the $20 billion a year that some critics have estimated, even the most conservative approximation from an anti-regulation economist still came out to $13 billion a year in fee revenue for the cable industry.

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