Senate Appropriations Committee Passes Set-Top Pause Provision

Joins House Appropriations Committee in seeking impact study results first

Even as ISPs were pushing a new proposal on set-top boxes in hopes of heading off FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal, the Republican-led Senate Appropriations Committee was charting its own route to heading off the FCC's "unlock the box" brand of promoting competition.

The committee approved a fiscal year 2017 FCC appropriations bill that would require the FCC to conduct an impact study before voting on Wheeler's set-top plan, which is to require MVPDs to make their programming and data available to third-party navigation devices and apps so it could be searched alongside over-the-top content. The goal is to promote a retail market in third-party devices given that 99% of subs still rent a box from their MVPD.

The House Appropriations Committee last week passed its FCC appropriations bill with the set-top pausing rider. Now Senate Republicans have followed suit, much to the chagrin of set-top proposal backers. 

“We are disappointed by the Appropriations Committee targeting the FCC for working to protect consumers, as Congress directed," said Kate Forscey, government affairs associate counsel for Public Knowledge. "This attack is a rider which attempts to stymie the Commission’s ongoing proceeding to ‘Unlock the Box.’ The rider hitched onto this bill would further forestall a truly competitive video marketplace, for which consumers and creators yearn and which the FCC now stands poised to deliver."

“Congress has twice asked the FCC to examine this monopoly control over set top boxes to free both prices and innovation, most recently in 2014," said Computer & Communications Industry Association Ed Black. "It makes no sense to use a backdoor policy rider to delay the very reforms the full Congress asked the FCC to consider. This delay by rider would just allow the cable industry more months to gouge customers. Why would we do that?”

CCIA members include Google, Netflix and Amazon.