Republicans want to make sure the Federal Communications Commission doesn’t continue with plans to shake up the set-top box market.
In a letter to newly appointed FCC chairman Ajit Pai, Republicans on the House’s Energy and Commerce Committee — which monitors the agency — urged the commission to close its set-top box proceeding, killing the proposed rules once and for all.
The rules were proposed last year and would require cable providers to make their TV streams more accessible to other devices. The proposal initially would have let any company make a set-top box that could receive any cable provider’s TV stream, which could have led to a flurry of far more interesting ways to interact with TV than we have now. That proposal received too much pushback, so a later proposal would have only required cable providers to provide streaming apps to major platforms.
The proceeding stalled when then-chairman Tom Wheeler realized he didn’t have the votes for it. But Wheeler didn’t close the proceeding, meaning that the FCC could at some point in the future pick up the cause again and have an easier time pushing it through, because much of the administrative work has already been done.
That’s part of why Republican committee members want it closed. They also argue that closing the proceeding will provide reassurance and stability to the cable industry and content producers — two groups of companies that had rallied against the rule changes — since they would know that the status quo will be maintained.
Republicans called the proceeding “an unnecessary regulatory threat to the content creation and distribution industries” and claimed it would limit investment in “high-quality video programming.”
In the letter, committee members also urged the FCC to “engage in the healthy practice” of regularly closing proceedings on any item that was no longer being debated.
It goes without question that the set-top box overhaul won’t happen on Pai’s watch. He’s called the proceeding “misguided” and “unfair,” and he wrote in August that it was “long past time for the FCC’s leadership to walk away from its deeply flawed set-top box scheme.”
Killing the proceeding wouldn’t be much of a hurdle given that he’s chairman now. But the bigger story here is Congressional Republicans getting behind Pai. This is an early and fairly simple case — Pai hasn’t acted on the letter yet, either — but it goes to show that Pai will likely have vocal Republican support for the reforms he wants to push through. And that’ll make life easier for him whenever he wants to get something done.