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Groups argue the FCC’s cable box proposal will hurt Latinos

Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for TechCrunch

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler says his new set-top box proposal, which would give third-party companies unprecedented access to cable channels, promotes channel diversity. However, in a letter sent to the agency today, the Hispanic Technology & Telecommunications Partnership — a group of national Latino organizations — says this is not the case. In fact, they write, Latinos will be put at a disadvantage, and the proposal will cause "irreparable" damage to the community.

The group’s argument comes down to licensing agreements. The FCC’s proposal would undo ties made between cable companies and channel providers. That’s the whole reason Wheeler says it will promote diversity; big companies with money wouldn’t necessarily always get the best channel placement in a Google-made guide that also includes stream-only programs, for example. But where the FCC sees diversity opportunity, the HTTP sees the opposite: a sea of white faces and minority communities being relegated to the last channel page listing.

where the FCC sees diversity opportunity, the HTTP sees the opposite

"[The proposal] would let tech companies raid these agreements, ignore their terms, or pile on layers of new advertisements of their own," the letter says. "That would further devalue diverse programming and make it harder for networks serving communities of color to find an audience and survive."

The group also argues that Latino consumers will suffer if this proposal passes. Wheeler has argued that Americans will pay less and ultimately save money if third-party companies can compete for the set-top box market, but HTTP says having to buy an expensive third-party box will cost people more than they pay now. For reference, the average monthly cost of an existing cable box is $7.43. An Apple TV can cost up to $199. HTTP references TiVo as its example because in addition to buying a box, users also pay a monthly subscription fee. (The point may not be valid, though, considering that cable companies could still offer their own boxes under Wheeler’s proposal.)

The HTTP argues that Latino consumers will suffer if this proposal passes

Among the 14 signers of the letter are the Dialogue on Diversity — a nonprofit educational group — and the League of United Latin American Citizens, the country's oldest Hispanic organization. For its part, the FCC says the argument doesn't hold up.

"When it’s easier for content creators to reach consumers, through better interfaces, menus, search functions, and improved over-the-top integration, we would expect this to lead to more diverse programming accessed more easily — especially minority and independent programming," a spokesperson said in an emailed comment to The Verge. "The proposal will have no impact on distribution and programming."

2/4, 5:25 PM ET: Updated to include the FCC's comment.