Technology

Dem leader urges compromise on FCC set-top box plan

The second-highest ranking House Democrat wants the Federal Communications Commission to reach a compromise in the battle over the future of television set-top boxes.

Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a letter last week, obtained by The Hill on Monday, that he hopes the agency finds “a solution that will inject some needed competition and innovation in the ecosystem, but without increasing the grave risks of online piracy or eroding consumers’ right to privacy.”

{mosads}An FCC spokesperson said the agency had received the letter and was reviewing it.

Wheeler has proposed new rules for the set-top box marketplace that would require video providers, like Comcast or DirecTV, to open up their video streams to third-party companies hoping to make their own boxes to deliver video content to Americans.

The video industry has resisted the idea. They say that Wheeler’s proposal will hurt privacy protections, damage intellectual property and hurt minority programmers.

Video content providers make billions each year off of renting the boxes, according to the FCC.

Hoyer’s letter noted an industry proposal that suggests requiring large video providers to create applications for smart televisions and other devices to access their content.

“Your ‘Unlock the Box’ proposal is commendable for its ambitious and transformative goals. However, concerns have been raised — including by many Members of Congress — regarding its practicality and potential unintended consequences,” said Hoyer. “Industry has engaged in a constructive way, including their recent ‘Ditch the Box’ proposal.”

“I believe common ground can be found,” he said.

Wheeler recently told a congressional panel that he thinks the industry proposal holds promise while pointing out that it lacked significant detail. One of the commission’s two other Democrats, Jessica Rosenworcel, has said that Wheeler’s plan is flawed — suggesting Wheeler will need to make changes to the item before he can get it approved.

Hoyer joins a chorus of lawmakers with concerns about Wheeler’s proposal. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have both expressed reservations about the plan.

Others on Capitol Hill support the proposal, including Rep. Anna Eshoo (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce technology subcommittee.

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