June 14, 2016
Last month, 60 lawmakers signed a letter objecting to an FCC regulation that would open up the cable TV set-top box market. More recently, Democratic congressman Bobby Rush’s staff pushed his colleagues to sign another letter, this one opposing an FCC proposal to limit how broadband providers can share users’ personal data. These are just recent efforts by the cable industry to oppose what it sees as unfair advantages enjoyed by tech companies such as Google in the light of new FCC proposals.
The New York Times notes the OpenSecrets website (run by the Center for Responsive Politics) post that, in Q1 2016, cable and telecom companies spent $22 million on lobbying, “the biggest lobbying push by the $115 billion industry in Washington since 2009, when the government drew up its net neutrality rules.”
Behind the scenes, companies such as AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association are sponsoring studies and consultants who write op-eds, which NYT calls “software forms of lobbying.”
This flurry of activity is in response to numerous regulations proposed by the FCC, including opening up set-top boxes to other manufacturers, a direct threat to the industry’s $19.5 billion in annual set-top-box rental fees.
The FCC’s proposed privacy rules would also make it harder to share user data for targeted advertising, and another proposed FCC plan will “force cable and telecom companies to lease bandwidth to competitors in certain areas, with potential limits on how much they can charge, curbing revenue for such deals.”
“The policy blows we are weathering are not modest regulatory corrections,” said NCTA president Michael Powell. “They have been thundering, tectonic shifts.”
What makes the cable/telecom industry more concerned is what it sees as FCC proposals that “reward tech companies like Google.” For example, the broadband privacy rules do not apply to tech companies, and the open set-top-box proposal could let Google and its ilk track viewers for their ad businesses.
The cable industry began its serious pushback on the day the FCC announced its open set-top-box proposal, by founding the lobbying group The Future of TV, eventually joined by media and movie companies and labor unions. Through a tool on its website, the organization has “helped generate 300,000 comments opposing the set-top-box plan.” The FCC, meanwhile, states that its proposals are “technology neutral.”
FCC spokeswoman Kim Hart says, “Chairman Wheeler’s proposals are about one thing: promoting meaningful competition among service providers so that consumers can have meaningful choices.”