Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Energy & Commerce Committee member Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) have asked the Government Accountability Office to look into the FCC's set-top box proposal, launched in February by a divided FCC.
Clarke signaled at an FCC oversight hearing that she had issues with the proposal's potential impact on diversity and had asked the Congressional Research Service to conduct a study. Now she wants GAO to weigh in as well. CRS is Congress' research arm, while GAO is more like an auditor and investigator.
Walden joined Clarke in the letter to GAO Friday, April 1, according to a copy supplied by the subcommittee.
“We are concerned that the agency’s efforts do not include a meaningful assessment of the effects on independent and diverse networks, whose business models may be greatly threatened and undermined by the FCC’s proposed rules," they wrote. "The FCC must proceed with a better understanding of how their proposed rules could limit diversity and inclusion on our nation’s shared media platforms.”
They want GAO to answer some key questions, including 1) the impact of the set-top box proposal on the ability of small and multicultural media to negotiate licensing agreements for distribution, advertising, channel placement, and on demand replays; 2) the value of diverse programming and its ability to find an audience (the FCC is separately looking at that issue in a notice of inquiry); and 3) content, protection and channel placement, among other issues.
The FCC is proposing to make set-top info available for repackaging by third parties for their own apps and devices "[I]t is critical that there be a thorough examination of the implications of these and other potential harms to small and medium-sized businesses that may not be able to recover from a radical shift in content distribution."