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Dem FCC member doubts agency's television box proposal

Dem FCC member doubts agency's television box proposal
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A Federal Communications Commission Democrat said Thursday she doesn’t think the agency has the legal authority to pursue a part of its proposal to reform the market for television set-top boxes.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, cast doubt on whether Chairman Tom Wheeler has the votes to pass the plan.

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Pay-television providers, like Comcast and DirecTV, would be required to create free applications through which consumers could view programming. At issue is Wheeler’s proposal that the commission would oversee the standard license between the providers and device manufacturers.

“We’re taking a hard look at what the chairman has put before us, and there’s a lot in there that seems to work,” Rosenworcel said. “I’m going to be very candid with you that I have some problems with licensing and the FCC getting a little bit too involved with the licensing scheme here.”

“Because, when I look at the Communications Act and Section 629, I just don’t think we have the authority.”

Republican Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly are opposed to the proposal as it was laid out last week. If Rosenworcel doesn’t vote for the plan, Wheeler will likely not have the support he needs to approve the change.

The pay-television industry is largely opposed to Wheeler’s proposal, even though he adopted the app-based approach they’ve championed for months. Lawmakers of both parties echoed those concerns on Thursday.

Wheeler indicated that he is ready to compromise on the item, up to a point, telling lawmakers that “the door isn’t closed on anything.” He said he would support potential changes "if we can do that and protect the mandate from Congress, which I believe we can."

The FCC is scheduled to vote on the proposal later this month. Members of the commission can continue to negotiate changes after an item is released but before it is voted on.