On Labor Day, we honor the hard-working Americans who make our economy go and make up the foundation of our communities with a well-deserved day off. Ironically, or perhaps fittingly, this holiday also means summer’s over and work is about to get a lot busier for many of us. That’s certainly true at the Commission, where our September open meeting will feature a robust and diverse agenda.
Headlining this month’s meeting will be proposed rules to unlock the set-top box marketplace.
Although Congress has mandated that consumers should be able to choose their preferred device to access pay-TV programming, 99 percent of Americans pay an average of $231 a year to lease set-top boxes, because we have no meaningful alternative.
Over the past seven months, the Commission has conducted an open proceeding to explore the best ways to increase consumer choice and innovation in the video marketplace. Following constructive engagement from a wide-range of stakeholders, I’ve circulated a proposal that would require pay-TV providers to offer to consumers a free app to access all the programming and features. Consumers will be able to use this app on the device of their choosing, whether that’s a streaming device, gaming console, or even your current smartTV. This proposal would also enable integrated search across platforms and services, while protecting content and privacy.
If adopted, these consumer-first rules would pave the way for a competitive marketplace for new devices that enhance the TV-watching experience. Bottom line: consumers will no longer have to rent a set-top box just to watch the programming they already pay for.
The Commission not only wants consumers to have options when it comes to how they access video programming, we also want to promote the availability of diverse and independent programming from which to choose. That’s why I’m proposing for consideration at this month’s meeting new rules that prohibit certain practices in program carriage agreements that could impede competition, diversity and innovation in the video marketplace. Specifically, my proposal would prohibit “unconditional” Most-Favored-Nation provisions and “unreasonable” Alternative Distribution Method provisions, which both limit the incentives and ability of independent programmers to experiment with innovative carriage terms and to license their content on alternative, innovative platforms.
In September, we also recognize National Preparedness Month. Appropriately, the Commission will be voting this month on an item to enhance Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), the 4-year-old system that delivers critical warnings to our cell phones during tornados, hurricanes and other emergencies. The updated rules would enable the public to receive additional, vital information in wireless alerts, better target the alerts to affected communities, and help state and local authorities more effectively use the service. For example, our rules will enable WEA AMBER alert originators to include more information, including active links for pictures and phone numbers, to help locate missing children.
Rounding out this month’s meeting agenda will be an item to extend to broadcast licensees the same streamlined rules and procedures that common carrier wireless licensees use to seek approval of foreign ownership, with appropriate modifications. These process reforms will provide the broadcast sector with greater transparency and more predictability, while reducing regulatory burdens and costs for all sectors. To be clear, these rules would not relax the foreign ownership thresholds, and the Commission will continue to conduct case-by-case public interest reviews of petitions. Commissioner O’Rielly deserves special recognition for his leadership in highlighting this issue.
Here’s hoping everybody re-charged their batteries this holiday weekend, because things at the Commission are about to get even busier.