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Industry fights FCC licensing role in set-top box battle

Industry fights FCC licensing role in set-top box battle
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Opponents of a Federal Communications Commission plan to reform the television set-top box market pushed back Tuesday on the idea that the agency could manage their arrangements with companies that host their programming.

The video industry is supportive of an arrangement where companies like Comcast or DirecTV could create applications for different devices that customers could use to watch programming, rather than a more far-reaching FCC proposal that would open up the market for set-top boxes.

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But the industry bristled in meetings last week at the suggestion that the commission could create a centralized body to govern the agreements between the video providers and the manufacturers of devices that could use their apps, according to a Tuesday filing.

“As detailed further below, this approach is unnecessary and unworkable; exceeds the Commission’s authority under Section 629; essentially imposes a royalty-free compulsory copyright license on [video providers] and programmers, which would also be well beyond the Commission’s authority to adopt; and raises other legal issues,” said the opponents, while describing their discussions with FCC officials.

The filing indicates that the commission's attempts to reach a compromise on the issue are facing pushback from industry.

Morning Consult reported that industry representatives were concerned with the prospect that, even if the licensing body was made up of stakeholders, the FCC would ultimately have undue influence over the process.

Comcast, AT&T and Charter were among the companies represented in the meetings with FCC staffers. Staffers from cable industry association NCTA were also present.

An FCC spokesperson declined to comment on the filing.

The filing is just the latest chapter in the latest months-long debate over FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s initial proposal, which would require video providers to open up their feeds to third-party manufacturers. That could make it easier for companies like Google and TiVo to sell boxes that would compete with the devices that the video providers already, in most cases, rent to their customers.

Industry groups have fought heavily against the plan by rallying lawmakers and proposing their own alternative, where major video providers would create applications to allow customers to view their content live without using a box. But they’re opposed to the idea that the FCC could have increased oversight over the agreements that would be at the core of that arrangement.

Still, the filing suggests the FCC is moving away from Wheeler’s initial proposal, which would be a victory for the industry. If Wheeler wants the commission to vote on the issue this month, he’ll need to circulate his proposal to his fellow commissioners by Thursday.