The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Time for a Time-Out on Set-Top Box Mandates

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


It is doubtful the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman thought there would be much concern about his proposed mandates on set-top box standards, which would allow third parties access to program guides and video content without needing to be licensed.  Obviously, he was wrong.

The proposed set-top box rules would require multi-channel video programming distributors (MVPDs) to turn over specific contractually protected information such as software programming, video guides, and licensed video content to third party device manufacturers with little regard to the end result for customer experience or consequences to content creators.  These third parties would then be able to use this proprietary information to formulate their own video guides, provide advertising based on a user’s viewing habits, and further mine individual data. 

However, the marketplace is heading in an entirely different direction based on According to the Motion Picture Association of America, there are 115 online services from which consumers can view full length films or television shows.  U.S. consumers watched more than 80,000 online films or television shows online in 2015, with that number expected to reach more than 100,000 by 2018.  In addition, cable companies themselves are giving customers the opportunity to view content at any time on any device, including tablets and smartphones in an increasingly mobile world. 

To date, the FCC now received more than 280,000 comments and other filings on the proceeding.  On May 5, 2016, 60 Members of Congress joined together in opposition to the FCC’s proposed rules, noting that “Imposing new, onerous regulations on pay-TV providers would produce very few benefits to consumers, while potentially harming the viability of these providers.”  Even other government agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission and the Small Business Administration have weighed in with concerns about regulating privacy on third party set-top devices and the impact the rules would have on smaller MVPDs.  On June 6, 2016, the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy asked the FCC to exempt small MVPDs from the final rules out of concerns that the “proposed rules will be disproportionately and significantly burdensome for small multi-channel video programming distributors (MVPDs).”

With the many concerns being raised by this proceeding, it is time for the FCC to put a pause on its proposed set-top box mandates so that it can ensure that all voices can and will be heard before any further action is taken. 

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