FCC Chairman Now Open to Modifying Cable Set-Top Box Proposal

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FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Credit: David Ramos/Getty Images

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, facing criticism from colleagues and lawmakers of both parties, said Thursday he's open to modifying his proposal to free consumers from needing to rent set-top boxes from their cable TV provider.

Hollywood studios and pay-TV providers led by Comcast and DirecTV owner AT&T have said Mr. Wheeler's proposal is unacceptable because it would make the FCC an arbiter of licensing contracts, potentially squelching innovation. The FCC in a fact sheet described its role as ensuring contracts aren't anti-competitive.

Mr. Wheeler, a Democrat, told a Senate Commerce Committee hearing that he is open to changing the provision, which has been criticized by the agency's minority Republicans.

"Let's do it -- let's get at it," Mr. Wheeler said. "The door isn't closed on anything."

The measure that aims to relieve consumers of paying an estimated $231 annually in box rental fees faces a Sept. 29 vote at the agency. It would require pay-TV companies to provide apps giving access to their programming to independent device makers.

Senator John Thune, the South Dakota Republican who is chairman of the Commerce Committee, said the FCC aims to "design and dictate the future of television apps," and Senator Bill Nelson, of Florida, the panel's top Democrat, said Mr. Wheeler should work to meet industry's concern.

President Barack Obama has called for set-top box changes as part of a suite of pro-competition reforms.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, "is reportedly reluctant to move quickly" on Mr. Wheeler's plan, the policy group Free Press said in a filing delivering 12,000 signatures to the agency in support of the measure. It asked all three agency Democrats to back the plan.

-- Bloomberg News

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