As we speak, House and Senate Republicans on the Appropriations Committees are trying to attach a number of inappropriate legislative policy riders added on to important appropriations bills for 2017. One rider in particular takes direct aim at the Federal Communication Commission’s ongoing proceeding to “unlock the box.” That proceeding would unburden consumers of hundreds of dollars in annual rental fees for their cable boxes, open up the market for new choices as to how they access the content of their choosing, and lower barriers to entry for innovative technologists and for diverse and independent content creators.
The unnecessary rider seeks to stymie these important efforts, by requiring that the FCC wait to move forward until additional studies are conducted. These studies are allegedly meant to examine concerns that are already being addressed through the Commission’s process, as well as the record being developed by that process. They are in fact little more than thinly-veiled delay tactics being pushed by Big Cable.
The FCC is already going through an open process followed by all administrative agencies, laid out by Congress in the Administrative Procedure Act, to address any and all concerns raised by stakeholders. The concerns meant to be addressed by the studies have already been raised in this proceeding, and the Commission is following Congressional directives as it moves forward by considering and addressing each of them. This rider is simply a giveaway to Big Cable and Big Hollywood lobbyists meant to stop regular order at the FCC. It is last-ditched delay tactic, being pushed by an industry so fearful of competition that they are resorting to desperate attempts in order to retain total control at the expense of consumers.
The FCC has demonstrated a strong appetite for addressing competitive problems which harm consumers in the video marketplace. At the direction of Congress, it vigorously pursued the DSTAC process, which was intended to recommend a system for devices that would promote competition. The FCC now stands on the verge of what we expect will be a set of rules designed to improve the experience of consumers, create opportunities for new and diverse voices, and provide consumers with never-before-seen choice and competition. This call for delays and postponements while studies are commissioned to address issues already being ironed out through the open, inclusive rulemaking processes is simply the latest attempt from incumbents to prevent increased competition in the marketplace.
Twenty years ago, Congress directed the Commission to enact rules to create a competitive video marketplace for consumer and programmers. Congress specifically reiterated that mandate in the STELAR Reauthorization Act of 2014, and at long last the Commission stands poised to advance that goal. President Obama has weighed in and supports moving forward on Congress’ mandate. Consumers want choice, we have the technology to provide it, and broad support from device makers, content creators, civil rights and racial justice groups, entrepreneurs and tech companies. There is no more reason to delay.