Sixty lawmakers hit FCC chair over TV box proposal

Sixty lawmakers hit FCC chair over TV box proposal

Sixty members of Congress sent a letter Thursday to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler that criticizes his proposal to open up the market for set-top boxes used to watch television on the grounds it could hurt rural communities.

“We acknowledge your efforts to support a competitive environment for video competition, but see few if any benefits to the public at large,” the lawmakers said.

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“We strongly urge you to press pause on the set-top box proceeding and reconsider the proposed rules, including the impacts they would have on small businesses and consumers alike.”

In addition to the many Republicans who signed on to the letter — including Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), the vice chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee — a handful of Democrats joined, too. The lawmakers represent primarily rural areas.

Their concerns focus on the way Wheeler’s proposed changes would affect small pay-television providers that service rural communities and provide service in urban markets as an alternative to the dominant programmers. They said the changes would do “direct harm” to small providers, even if they are exempt from the rules themselves, because of the changes it would bring to the market for online video.

“In particular, we are concerned the proposal threatens the economic welfare of small pay-TV companies providing both vital communications services to rural areas and competitive alternatives to consumers in urban markets,” the lawmakers said.

The group is the latest on Capitol Hill to express concerns about the proposal. A large group of House Democrats wrote to Wheeler last week asking him to wait to move the proposal forward until it could be studied. The chairman and ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee have also expressed worries about the bill.

Under the plan, companies such as Comcast would have to open up their video feeds to anyone who wanted to manufacture a set-top box. Opponents claim the the proposal would harm minority programmers and undermine copyright protections that exist in the current system.

Wheeler and others who back the plan, including the President Obama, say that opening up the market for the boxes will improve competition and result in lower costs for consumers.