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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Having a free market was fun, wasn’t it? Unfortunately, more and more – the fun’s over.
Take what we watch on television. It has been for two decades now an ever-expanding free market Xanadu. We’ve been joking for years about the amazing number of channels we have from which to choose. For instance, Comcast’s most basic current package has over 90 – and you can get more than 180 should you wish.
And that’s just cable – then there are the alternative content providers. And companies like Netflix and Amazon’s Prime aren’t just offering content – they’re creating it. Netflix has given us House of Cards – Amazon The Man in the High Castle. And dozens of other shows. Multiple additional companies offer us additional huge digital storehouses of stuff to watch.
Even the government (from all appearances begrudgingly) admits we are in an amazing era. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Democrat Chairman Tom Wheeler late last week wrote:
“There’s never been a better time to watch television in America. We have more options than ever, and, with so much competition for eyeballs, studios and artists keep raising the bar for quality content.”
But government can’t help itself. The freer something is – the greater the government’s desire to rein it in.
The Democrat FCC Chairman wants to end all that pesky free market content creation and explosive growth – and shrink it all back down to one government bureau. He is doing all of this – via a Pay TV set-top-box power grab. What non-problem is his grab alleged to be “solving?”
“(W)hen it comes to the set-top-box that delivers our pay-TV subscriptions, we have essentially no options, creating headaches and costing us serious money in rental fees. That makes no sense, which is why I’m sharing a proposal with my fellow commissioners at the Federal Communications Commission to change the system.”
Again, the system he wants to change (fundamentally transform?) – is the free market Xanadu we’ve been increasingly enjoying for decades. If it ain’t broke – the government will surely insist they need to fix it.
And the Democrat Chairman’s representation of the set-top-box – is wholly wrong. The box is not a separate, adjunct component – it’s the very necessary last piece in the complex, encoded, proprietary cable line. That starts in creation capitols like Hollywood – and ends up in your living room.
Content creators want their content protected. Cable companies sign contracts promising to protect it. The box is the last step in that protection process. It’s what translates the encoded scramble – into your favorite movies and shows. It’s not just some random thing to which the government can blithely mandate third-party access.
In part because it opens up an entire Pandora’s Box of content protection problems. Which is why all sorts of content creators are all so vociferously opposed – joints like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
And even though the Barack Obama Administration has by now rendered this notion remotely quaint – the FCC doesn’t have even close to Congressional authority to do this. We’ll quote Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O’Reilly:
“(I)t appears to exist within a fantasy world of unlimited Commission authority. The Commission is and must remain in the business of licensing spectrum and infrastructure, not content.”
Wait – what? The government – licensing content?
FCC To Propose Itself As Sole TV Programmer In Latest Set-Top Box Twist: “Is TV’s Second Golden Age coming to an unfortunate and unnecessary end? The answer could depend on just how far the FCC is willing to go to rescue its deeply-troubled proposal to ‘unlock’ Pay TV set-top boxes….FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is now considering the creation of a copyright licensing office within the FCC, replacing complex separate arrangements with device manufacturers with a single contract overseen and possibly written by the Commission’s staff.”
Get that? Hundreds (thousands?) of privately negotiated contracts between willing private participants – will be shredded. And rewritten by government – in a one-size-fits-all manner.
Great news. Behold the government Television Content Commission. How very Soviet of them.
Content creators the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) – are thrilled (sarcasm):
“The broadcasters insisted that any new regulations aimed at encouraging more set-top box options make clear that the FCC would has no authority to ‘establish, interpret or modify agreement terms in any way….’
“‘Any action that could restrict [copyright owners’] ability to impose reasonable conditions on the use of [their] works through the private negotiations,’ the NAB wrote, ‘represents an existential threat to our vibrant video programming marketplace.’”
Behold yet another dose of Obama Administration fundamental transformation.
Because these past eight years of fundamental transformations have been such a resounding success.
[Originally Published at Red State]