The problem here is not the desire to open up the set-top box market, but Google and others’ use of crony capitalism through the Obama Administration to circumvent the standard FCC process to make an informed decision. The FCC has already started the NPRM process where Google, Facebook, Netflix, Amazon, and others can participate. They don’t need to put political pressure on a supposedly-independent department. There is no question that both sides of the argument have a vested interest, but Silicon Valley should follow the processes outlined by the FCC.
From net neutrality to municipal broadband, to new broadband privacy rules and a quest to open up the cable set top box to competition, we’ve noted repeatedly that the FCC under Tom Wheeler isn’t the same FCC we’ve learned to grumble about over the years. For a twenty-year stretch, regardless of party control, the agency was utterly, dismally apathetic to the lack of competition in the broadband space. But under Wheeler, the FCC has not only made broadband competition a priority, but has engaged in other bizarre, uncharacteristic behaviors — like using actual real-world data to influence policy decisions.
Obviously, this doesn’t please incumbent telecom operators like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, who grew pretty comfortable with an FCC that asked “how high” when commanded to jump. The reality is that this is just what it looks like when a regulator does its job and tries to fix a very broken market. But incapable of admitting the broadband market’s horribly broken, the telecom industry instead seems intent on pointing fingers elsewhere. In a strange story over at Politico, broadband providers blame Google for absolutely everything the FCC has been up to.
The quest to open the set top box, the quest for more unlicensed spectrum, and the quest for better consumer privacy controls? All the fault of Alphabet and Google:
The cable industry-led Future of TV Coalition earlier this year suggested Google had “a sneak preview” of the FCC’s February plan to open up the set-top box market to new competitors. The move would require pay-TV companies to make their content streams available to third parties that want to build and sell their own boxes — a move that cable firms say is designed to benefit Google, which has already demonstrated a prototype cable box to regulators.
AT&T, meanwhile, has charged that the agency is placing its “thumb on the scale” in favor of Google via Wheeler’s March proposal to impose strict privacy rules on broadband companies. The plan, according to AT&T and others, would put telecom firms at a disadvantage compared with Internet companies like Google, which wouldn’t fall under the FCC rules. Internet firms’ privacy practices are policed by the Federal Trade Commission, which is seen as less prescriptive.