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FCC box plan raises alarms among House Judiciary leaders

FCC box plan raises alarms among House Judiciary leaders

The top Republican and Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee are worried that a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposal to open up the market for the set-top boxes that consumers use to watch television could lead to "an expansion" in the distribution of pirated content.

In the letter, sent Friday to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and first reported by Politico on Monday morning, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteBottom line No documents? Hoping for legalization? Be wary of Joe Biden Press: Trump's final presidential pardon: himself MORE (R-Va.) and ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.) said they are concerned “that the proposal could lead to an expansion in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted works.”

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They cited some in the creative community who have raised alarms over the way they say the proposal would expose their work to piracy. A producer of the zombie drama "The Walking Dead," for example, said in an April op-ed that the plan would bring internet-style content piracy to the American living room.

“If the FCC decides to continue to pursue this rulemaking, we urge it to ensure that the marketplace of legal copyrighted works is not harmed by such actions,” Goodlatte and Conyers wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Hill. “In addition the video marketplace has evolved significantly over the past ten years with new entrants and innovation.

“We will continue to remain watchful to ensure that any proposed FCC regulations are appropriate and promote, rather than inhibit, future innovation and competition in this important marketplace, and that any proposed regulations do not impose a disproportionate burden on smaller or rural providers.”

Under Wheeler’s proposal, video providers like Comcast or Dish would be required to open their video feeds to other companies that want to manufacture boxes for consumers. The industry says the new boxes might not have the security features needed to protect copyrighted material included in the boxes they currently lease.

Wheeler and his supporters among tech firms and public interest groups say the proposal, if enacted, would increase competition and result in lower prices for consumers. They say the proposed rules would require video providers to offer a security system that could be used to protect their content from theft.

The proposal has congressional critics on both sides of the aisle. Many in the Congressional Black Caucus, which counts Conyers as a member, have expressed concerns, as has Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonDemocrats cool on Crist's latest bid for Florida governor Crist launches bid for Florida governor, seeking to recapture his old job The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Trump, Cheney trade jabs MORE (D-Fla.), the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee.

It also has supporters, including many in Congress and President Obama, who had his administration file comments with the FCC supporting the proposal. Reforms to the marketplace are also backed by companies like Google and TiVo, which could make money by manufacturing their own boxes.