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FCC approves rule that would open the cable box to competition from independent suppliers

(February 18, 2016) The Federal Communications Commission has approved a proposal that it says would "tear down anti-competitive barriers and pave the way for software, devices, and other innovative solutions to compete with the set-top boxes." In a 3-2 vote divided along party lines, the Commissioners approved The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) which will create a framework for providing the information needed by those that are not cable providers to develop competitive technologies to offer subscribers.

The Commission also approved a Notice of Inquiry that will begin a conversation about the state of independent and diverse programming. The NOI solicits comment on the principal challenges independent video programmers face in gaining carriage of their content on both traditional and emerging distribution platforms. This action will help the Commission assess the current state of video programming diversity and determine whether further action is needed to promote independent programming sources.

African American cable channel owners, including TV One, Aspire, and Revolt have argued that disrupting the current distribution offered through leased cable boxes would cripple their business models and put millions of dollars they have invested at risk. However, black owners of video streaming services, like Urban Movie Channel's Bob Johnson, who founded cable channel BET, have said that it's not the role of the FCC to protect these cable networks from possible competition.

"There has been much discussion recently, about how and if this proposal will affect content diversity, with some expressing concern that it could lead to decreases in the levels of diverse programming choices, wrote Commissioner Mignon Clyburn (pictured), the only African-American commissioner on the FCC. "Sadly, we are only speaking about a paltry number of diverse channels can be found over these systems today, but for the handful of those that have had success in being carried by an MVPD, I see no legitimate business or economic reason why this item should make their programming or the relationship with the distributor any more vulnerable than their counterparts."

"What I hope will occur is that creators of content who have been unable to get MVPD carriage may soon have a means to reach consumers directly," Clyburn stated. "Similar to the way that Internet searches provide consumers with information from various sources... these developments should result in consumers having a wider range of options."


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