The FCC’s Proposal to Unlock the Set-Top Box Could Harm Independent and...

The FCC’s Proposal to Unlock the Set-Top Box Could Harm Independent and Minority Programmers

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Over-the-top streaming services and app-based technology have revolutionized the video marketplace in recent years. Today, consumers can choose to access the programming they love using cable, satellite, as well as broadband video services on their computers, mobile phones, and television. Consumers have never had so many options to watch their favorite shows how, when and where they want.

However, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler recently unveiled a proposal that has the potential to degrade the consumer experience and inflict considerable harm on independent programmers and video channels, especially those serving the African American community, if approved by the full Commission. The proposal would be so detrimental that thirty members of the Congressional Black Caucus wrote a letter to the FCC warning that the proposal would “cause irreparable harm to independent and minority programmers.”

The FCC’s plan, known as the “Google Proposal,” would enable Google and other Internet companies to take programming distributed by cable and satellite companies and repackage it as their own. What is so dangerous about this proposal is that Internet companies would not be bound to respect cable and satellite licensing agreements. These agreements are crucial for funding and distributing quality programming for diverse audiences.

Further, under the Google Proposal, Internet companies could take content for free and distribute it on their own terms while also selling advertising around it. These companies will be under no obligation to share the profits from their double-dipping ads with the content creators or programmers. Internet companies could rearrange their channel lists however they’d like, making channels targeted to African Americans harder to find. Small independent and diverse channels and programmers lack the resources to withstand these revenue losses. For many African-American content creators and distributors, the Google Proposal would create a life-and-death struggle for their dreams and aspirations.

Consumer demand for entertainment is rapidly changing, and this is especially the case for African Americans. Minority programmers already spend millions of dollars creating multicultural content that reflects our rich diversity as a nation. However, these efforts would be thwarted by this proposal because it allows Internet companies to rearrange the list of channels in any manner they see fit, including making channels targeted toward an African American audience harder to find in any search or guide if doing so will help them achieve their own ad selling goals.

We need to ensure the continuation of widespread distribution of independent diverse programming to all of our members and Americans as a whole.

The other FCC commissioners must stand up and make clear that they will not support the imposition of a mandate that benefits a favored company at the expense of diverse minority programmers.

Senator Catherine Pugh is the Majority Leader for the Maryland State Senate and serves as President of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL).

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