Public Knowledge on STAVRA: Drop Set-Top Language Or Bill

Would Rather See Sunset of License than Integration Ban
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Now that the election is over and the Lame Duck Congress can turn to passage of must-pass satellite television reauthorization legislation (STAVRA), Public Knowledge is turning to all 100 senators asking them to fix forget it.

The "fix" would be to either jettison the part of the bill, backed and pushed by cable operators, that would eliminate the FCC's requirement that the surfing and security functions of set-tops be integrated (with the CableCARD hardware solution). The goal was to spur a robust retail set-top market, which everybody agrees hasn't happened.

The bill reauthorizing the satellite compulsory license expires Dec. 31 if it is not renewed by then, and Public Knowledge is advising the Senators to let it expire unless the set-top provision is either jettisoned, or modified along the lines of an amendment pushed by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) in the Senate Commerce Committee. The bill has already passed out of committee with Markey agreeing not to introduce the amendment.

But he still wants it in the bill, as does Public Knowledge.

“Every U.S. senator should know that American consumers are watching them as they decide whether to maintain choice and competition in the set-top box marketplace," said Christopher Lewis, VP for government affairs for Public  "Americans already have few choices for pay-TV offerings and face ever increasing prices on these services."

He calls getting rid of the mandate a "legislative giveaway" to big cable that will provide them with "a virtual monopoly on set-top boxes and allow prices on box rentals to increase unchallenged."

Public Knowledge supports the Markey amendment, which would require the FCC to come up with a new set-top standard before eliminating the integration mandate.

“Senators have two options to move forward in a consumer friendly way," it said. "Either strip offensive set-top box language from STAVRA, or revise STAVRA with language similar to the Markey proposal which will direct the FCC to approve a new technological standard for set-top boxes prior to eliminating the old. Without such actions, we urge senators to oppose the bill.”

“Public Knowledge’s latest letter once again completely ignores the clear consumer benefits that flow from eliminating an outdated technology mandate that wastes energy and adds unnecessary costs to leased set top boxes," said National Cable & Telecommunications Association spokesman Brian Dietz. "The bipartisan legislation that passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate Commerce Committee is a common sense solution that does not disturb the underlying legal obligation to support separable security in retail devices and does not alter the market incentives that drive providers to expand the availability of its services.  The fact that PK’s latest characterization falls so wide of the mark can only be interpreted as a conscious decision to remain willfully blind to the significant changes that have occurred in the video marketplace over the last decade, to ignore the harmful impact of technology mandates on innovation incentives, and to brazenly deny the manifest injustice of a rule that saddles cable customers with leased devices -- and cable customers alone -- with added costs for no appreciable benefit.”

The set-top integration ban language came from the House, where it passed out of committee on a bipartisan vote, including with the support of Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).

Among the arguments made for getting rid of the mandate was that the integrated boxes, in addition to not spurring a retail market, were energy inefficient.

The last time the license expired (2009), Congress failed to pass a bill until months after the deadline, requiring the Senate to contact content providers and ask them to pretend the bill had passed under assurances it would be retroactive which it finally was.