One of America's leading authorities on technology and telecom policy, Motley is a writer, television and radio commentator, political and policy strategist, lecturer, debater, activist, and policy advisor to The Heartland Institute.
Latest posts by Seton Motley (see all)
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A key Barack Obama Administration legacy item is its wanton abuse of the Constitution’s separation and balance of powers. No Executive Branch in history has spent more time pretending to be the Legislative Branch – writing regulations where the requisite preceding law doesn’t exist.
As this Administration’s time runs down – its minions ramp up these unilateral power grabs. As the grabs get larger and more obnoxious – more and more people oppose them. President Obama’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has with its latest proposed heist created just this sort of nigh total opposition – their looming set-top-box mandate.
Does the FCC have the legal authority to do this? It’s pretty clear the answer is No. The law under which the FCC just about always operates is the 1996 Telecommunications Act– until very recently a law recognized by just about everyone to be a deregulatory document. Meaning its intent was to get and keep government out of the way of things like television and the Internet.
But this Administration has turned this mandate on its head – and bizarrely warps the law into bizarrely “justifying” power grab after power grab. So too it is with this set-top-box seizure.
So who exactly is opposed? Of course the usual, rational actors in these sorts of things. The people and organizations who understand the rule of law, economics and freedom generally. We at Less Government certainly are. So too are joints like Tech Freedom, the Center for Individual Freedom, the Free State Foundation and many, many more.
Then there are the companies. You know, the people who actually make a living doing this and thus know a little bit about how things work – and don’t. (For this trillion-dollar-contribution to our economy, these companies are this Administration’s perpetual whipping boys.)
Time Warner in understated fashion calls the grab “unnecessary.” Comcast proved the grab not only illegal but unnecessary by unveiling yet another iteration of the 21st Century’s replacement for the 20th Century set-top-box – the application (app). Dish Network and EchoStar filed joint comments in opposition.
National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) President Michael Powell rightly points out that this FCC ridiculousness will “require an enormous amount of time, effort, re-engineering and cost.” Time, effort and re-engineering all cost money. Lots and LOTS of money. Which means it will cost We the Consumers tons of money. Because that’s who pays for their services – and the government’s onerous, exhaustive regulations thereof. NCTA says they’ll sue the FCC should their mandate threat come to fruition. (As the government’s list of power grabs grows, the conga line to the courthouse gets longer and longer.)
Add to this list of technology creators and innovators (because lest we forget, companies like Comcast, Time Warner and the many NCTA members are in fact technology creators and innovators) – CALinnovates. Whose Executive Director Mike Montgomery astutely notes “It is apparent that with this set-top box proposal the FCC is missing the forest for the trees. Specifically, the Commission obsesses over the size of one ancient, crumbling tree – missing the thriving vegetation sprouting around it.”
Now we branch out to other opponents of the grab. Behold the people who create the content – which the FCC is about to make much more susceptible to theft. Collections of companies like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Companies like Walt Disney, CBS, 21st Century Fox, A&E Television Networks, Scripps Networks Interactive and Viacom. And joints like the Digital Citizens Alliance – likewise concerned with intellectual property protection.
Then there are content aggregators – the companies that make money re-selling this content. Companies like Roku. They get it: “Roku believes that, rather than accelerate the pace of change and innovation, the Commission’s proposed rules could actually inhibit the transition from traditional programming delivery models [cable] to OTT [internet / streaming] services.”
And then there are groups like The Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership – who also get it: “We believe this approach will undermine diversity in the television industry, all to solve a ‘problem’ that does not currently exist…(I)nstead of acknowledging the unprecedented innovation sweeping the video marketplace today, this rule seeks to put its thumb on the scale and favor large tech companies at the expense of independent and diverse programmers.”
And to whom is the FCC giving the favorable thumb treatment? Yet again giving the favorable thumb treatment? Endlessly, ceaselessly giving the favorable thumb treatment? Why it’s Google, of course. Shocker:
“Set-top-boxes collect data. So of course Google wanted in – in 2014. But the marketplace is already passing them by: ‘The future (and increasingly the present) of television isn’t boxes, it’s apps (and alternate hardware like Apple TV and Amazon Firestick). Netflix, Amazon Prime, Roku, Hulu and a host of other companies deliver you (via their apps) unlimited streaming TV and movie content using only an Internet connection. No cable TV subscription (or box) required.’
“Google loathes apps – because they can’t get at the data collected by them. So they want to muck up the apps (r)evolution – and prop-up the dying set-top-box. The Obama Administration is more than happy to oblige.”
So nigh the entire Tech World – and beyond – is opposed to this next Obama Administration power grab.
But Google wants it.
So we’re all going to get it – good and hard.