New Set Top Rule Could Further Disenfranchise Diverse, Independent Businesses

New Set Top Rule Could Further Disenfranchise Diverse, Independent Businesses

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By Ron Busby, President & CEO, US Black Chambers, Inc.

Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission began its quest to #unlockthebox, an effort the proposal’s backers said would unleash innovation by opening up the cable set top market. Despite the presence of products like TiVO, Amazon Firestick, Roku, A-Box, and a host of alternative content access points already on the market, the claim was that consumers would benefit handsomely if they could just get rid of burdensome monthly set top box fees.

Many cable and content providers had already begun the process of transitioning to an apps-based model to deliver rich video content to their subscribers. Who cares that millions of Americans nationwide – especially young people – have been cutting the chord entirely in favor of more mobile, on-the-go content offerings, the Commission charged ahead with a plan that has been met with questions and controversy since its inception.

Now, just three short months before America’s 45th President takes office and what has become known as the most diverse Commission in history faces some likely seat changes, it’s time for the Commission to make a decision. Three weeks before the proposal gets voted on at the Commission’s September 29th meeting, FCC Chairman Wheeler released yet another proposal that still raises concerns about copyright, licensing, and consumer privacy. What’s more, it continues to disregard longstanding concerns about the potentially detrimental impact this new rule will have on diverse and independent content creators, programmers, and distributors.

Despite Black America’s nearly $1.3 trillion buying power, and our disproportionate consumption of all forms of media, our content businesses – much like African American enterprises generally – remain under-resourced, under-exposed, and under-capitalized. For months, a bi-partisan swath of congressional members, representatives from venerable civil rights and social justice organizations, and groups representing the interests of artists, entertainers, and creative professionals, along with federal agencies like the Congressional Budget Office and the U.S. Copyright Office have asked the FCC to pause its proceeding to conduct an impact study of this new rule. And for months, as this Commission has done so many times before, it continues to disregard the legitimate diversity concerns that people have levied before it.

Chairman Wheeler’s latest alternative proposal is no exception. It’s hard to criticize the details of the proposal, as it has not been released for public review or comment. From what is known of this latest approach, however, Black and Brown people may end up, yet again, on the losing end of a regulatory and economic system that fails to take into account the particular challenges associated with being a diverse, independent business owner. As a representative of more than 250,000 Black business owners from across the country, it’s hard to sit by and watch this Commission potentially disenfranchise current, fledging, and would-be members of the content community with a rushed decision on this proposal. If the Commission is unwillingly to explore legitimate concerns about the potential disparate impact of this new rule, what hope do our voices and businesses really have of survival in a system that may want our dollars and data but does not take the time to evaluate and implement measures that stimulate our full participation?

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