Google has proposed that the FCC impose a new technology mandate on all pay-TV providers (MVPDs) purportedly “to ensure the commercial availability of navigation devices used by consumers to access services from MVPDs.” Based upon press coverage, the FCC seems enamored with that misguided proposal. Instead of just listening to a few favored companies hoping to game the system solely for their own financial advantage, the FCC should take a look around at the abundance of competitive options the market is delivering to consumers today.
In my house alone – and trust me, I am far from tech-savvy – I can access DIRECTV, as well as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and other over-the-top (OTT) services on my tablet, computer, mobile phone and TV. I need only one gateway set-top box (STB) in my home that works with all of our televisions (without additional STBs on each set) through an “open standard” called RVU. AT&T U-verse and other pay-TV and OTT services are available on the Xbox. I didn’t even mention Roku, Google Chromecast, Kindle Fire and Apple TV – there are more than 450 million retail devices and counting in use that can receive pay-TV and OTT services. More than that, virtually every content provider on the planet has an app to provide consumers with access to its content. The video “app” model has enabled consumer choice without any need for government or regulatory mandates. Indeed, according to Apple CEO Tim Cook, “the future of TV is apps.” (Emphasis added)
As the market for video has become even more competitive, consumers have more choices than ever to watch what they want, when they want it and on the device of their choosing anywhere they happen to be. Apps have enabled such competition by enabling content companies to directly reach their consumers. Apps have enabled smart phone, television, tablet, computer and game console manufacturers to provide their distinct user interfaces, features and functionality. At the same time, apps respect the ability of Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, PlayStation Vue and many others to compete through their own user interfaces, features, and functionalities when a consumer chooses their app.
So, if the market is working, what are we really talking about here? When you get beyond all the hype, Google and its affiliated proponents of this technology mandate are simply trying to take our competitive service and repackage it as their own, without ever having to negotiate with us or with the content owners with whom we had to negotiate to create our service offering. It’s akin to the FCC mandating that we get access to Google’s home page (and all of the contract rights and algorithms that go with it) so that we can redesign and rebrand it as our own.
What does the consumer get out of this? Well, as we have seen in other areas, not much. In fact, consumers would lose protections they have today in areas such as privacy, emergency alerts and children’s advertising. Let’s keep in mind that this proposal is coming from the company that collects more personal and private information from unsuspecting consumers than any other company. Despite statements that the FCC will take care of these things, it is unclear under what authority they could do so. Make no mistake – Google is not pushing this proposal to benefit consumers; Google is pushing this to benefit Google.
Nor would Google be required to provide consumers all of their pay-TV provider’s video channels, such as minority-oriented programming, much less make it easy to find if they are offered. Not everyone can be at the top of search results, after all. In fact, the Google proposal would not require that third party manufacturers honor the licensing terms, such as channel placement and advertising restrictions that programmers and pay-TV providers have agreed to. And advocates of that proposal have clearly stated that they should not have to.
Moreover, someone has to pay to implement the Google proposal (hint – it won’t be Google). If adopted, the Google proposal would mandate the development of a host of new technologies and specifications that do not exist today. This would take years, and it won’t come cheap. As always, it would be consumers that bear these costs, and they would have to do so whether they want a separate box to deliver content or not. Certainly given the pace at which apps are proliferating, most likely not. Not to mention the potential for customer confusion this would generate when consumers have questions on how to receive our services on these boxes.
The American consumer, at the end of day, is going to pay a bundle for this unnecessary, backward-looking technology mandate through higher prices, less privacy protection, less content diversity and increased customer confusion. The FCC Chairman claims that he is trying to promote consumer choice. But the market already is delivering a plethora of choices, with the promise of many more to come as pay-TV providers, OTTs and device manufacturers ceaselessly invest and innovate to provide consumers the content they want, when, where and how they want it. Rather than attempting to fix a market that is working with a Google-devised technology mandate that will be obsolete before it is ever implemented, the Commission should take a look around at the abundance of devices that consumers are using today to access video services. The statutory goals of Section 629 are clearly being met in ways no one could have even imagined when Congress adopted the objective in 1996. It’s time for the FCC to put consumers, not special interests, first, and reject Google’s ill-conceived proposal.