Home » Uncategorized » Set-top Box Rules May Hinder Minority Programmers

By Rosa Mendoza, Hispanic Technology & Telecommunications Partnership, Executive Director

Earlier this week, all five FCC commissioners appeared at a hearing held by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, giving Congress an opportunity to examine whether the FCC’s recent actions best serve the American people. The hearing highlighted the need for the FCC to move away from burdensome regulations and return to light-touch policies that have proven to grow the economy help businesses provide a better consumer experience.

One issue discussed during the hearing has a huge impact on Latino programmers and the Latino community.  Several Congressional members expressed concern about the FCC’s Downloadable Security Technical Advisory Committee (DSTAC), which is considering a proposal similar to ‘AllVid’, which would impact the rules around your set top box. This proposal would allow the FCC to require telecommunications, satellite and cable companies to provide television programming rights ‘for free’ to the TiVo’s of the world.  In essence, “opening up” the set top box for third parties to poach the programs they selectively choose, without regard to legal protections in place.  Those members warned against expansion of the scope of DSTAC beyond the Congressional directive, stating that FCC overreach could harm consumer prices, protections, and preferences.

Consumers already benefit from a vibrant, dynamic market that has operated smoothly for many years.  New services have hit the marketplace delivering all kinds of application-driven content for consumers. Programmers stream an abundance of news, entertainment, and sports to their viewers.  The AllVid, or set top box proposal, if implemented, would create a roadblock for Latino programmers who are looking to broadcast their shows through pay-TV, as special interests “raid” the programming that everyone enjoys today and likely leaves smaller, independent and diverse networks behind. If the FCC were to interfere in this arena, it would be counterproductive. The reality is that competition is thriving in the television industry as access to high-speed Internet expands and viewers have access to plenty of high-quality, thoughtful, and entertaining content.

Expanding regulations over the video programming market through AllVid-like proposal would allow special interests to pick and choose which of the programming terms they want. Such a policy would undermine innovation as it tilts the playing field toward its preferred winners, dampening the private sector investment and jobs which drive our economy.  The government already struggles to modernize regulations so that they keep up with advances in technology.  Adding more heavy-handed regulations will do nothing to improve companies’ ability to meet a changing consumer demand.

By contrast, consumers are better served with an FCC implementing policies that encourage innovation and private investment so all competitors can provide high quality service to consumers. By concentrating on fulfilling the goals set out in its National Broadband Plan, the FCC can move out of the regulatory silos of the past and promote a convergent, competitive future.

Congress needs to make certain the FCC is accountable for its actions and ensure that the agency fosters an innovative and competitive climate in which diverse programmers get a fair shot at viewership. A light touch policy reflects the new business realities in the TV market and benefits everyone, especially minority programmers.  Moreover, as a Latina tech-savvy consumer, I’m not looking for another box to enter my living room, I am depending more and more on apps and other innovative options for consuming my diverse video preferences.

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