House Dems tell regulator more work needed on TV boxes

House Dems tell regulator more work needed on TV boxes
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A group of more than 60 House Democrats on Thursday said a federal regulator should release and vet a proposal to open up the market for television boxes.

Under Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal, set to be voted on next week, pay-television providers would be required to create applications through which customers could view live television on devices such as smart televisions or tablets.

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It marks a major change from his initial proposal to have the providers open their data up to third parties who wanted to make their own boxes. But the television providers still object to a portion of the proposal that would give the FCC oversight of the deals they make with device manufacturers that will host their apps.

Sixty-four House Democratic lawmakers said in a letter to Wheeler and the agency's commissioners that they wanted the commission to launch a formal proceeding where the public — and industry — could comment on the text of the new proposal.

“We appreciate your effort to incorporate some of the suggestions you received during the comment period, however, the most recent proposal being voted on by the Commission is significantly different from the proposal that we had the opportunity to review and comment on," they said in the message led by Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.).

“It is difficult to analyze the full scope of the standard license and the FCC’s role in developing and enforcing this license without knowing the full details of the proposal,” they said. “Commissioners should have the opportunity to place their vote knowing how the industry will be impacted and it is imperative that any new rules be adopted through a transparent and inclusive process.”

They join other critics of the proposal in asking the commission to disclose more details about the contents of the plan.

"As Chairman Wheeler indicated at last week’s hearing, he is looking forward to working with his colleagues on this proposal and expects it to be voted at the September 29 Open Meeting," said Kim Hart, an FCC spokeswoman, in an email.

It remains to be seen whether Wheeler’s proposals can make it through the five-member commission. Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said at a hearing this month that she did not believe the agency at the authority to execute its authority over an outside licensing board as proposed in the plan. Without her vote, Wheeler’s proposal is unlikely to be approved.

The plan, however, has its supporters. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) wrote a “Dear Colleague” letter on Wednesday labeling a criticism of the licensing regime as a “fiction.