The Federal Communications Commission should stick to managing spectrum, a scarce resource that fuels next generation wireless communications networks. Managing the distribution of scarce resources and getting that resource into activity that provides the highest economic value is among government’s highest priorities. Unfortunately, the Commission has been committing economy malpractice by focusing on activities that discourage high value economic activity.
One such activity is a set-top box initiative started by former Commission chairman Tom Wheeler designed allegedly to encourage competition in the set top box market. Mr Wheeler wanted to free cable television subscribers from the additional hundreds of dollars spent on set top boxes. Mr Wheeler wanted set top box providers to move to an app-based alternative for navigating cable channels. In addition, Mr Wheeler wanted cable operators to provide alternative video distribution providers with access to information found in cable company provided set top boxes, allowing alternative providers to mine data on subscriber viewing behavior, using the data to produce alternative navigation services.
Cable companies and cable providers were not surprisingly up in arms about Mr Wheeler’s proposal, raising concerns about the use of proprietary data and the use of content that cable providers had to enter into negotiations and pay hefty sums in order to acquire. Net neutrality advocates likened such access as an extension of the net neutrality principle, but, in my opinion, the initiative amounted to theft and the desire for content companies like Google to get content at a severe discount.
The GOP caucus of the 115th Congress recognize that the set top box proposal is a shenanigan that needs to be squashed. Today, members of the House subcommittee on communications and technology asked newly minted Commission chairman Ajit Pai to close the set top box docket since the docket was under active debate or discussion; formed a threat to the content and distribution industries; and created too much regulatory uncertainty for for cable companies.
What Mr Wheeler’s proposal really does is support the notion that all information should be accessed at no cost by alternative content developers and distributors. This position has been annoying conflated with the notion of the democratization of the internet and the freedom of voices to message and share. It’s time that this great deceit be put to rest.
Openness has never been about consumer access to the internet or a consumer’s ability to express herself over the internet. It has been, in part, about large content providers and search portals being able to access data on the cheap that would help them assess consumer behavior. Shutting down this farce of a docket would be a step in the right direction and Mr Pai should grant the subcommittee’s request.