Why are concerns about set-top boxes married to campaign contributions?


Why are members of Congress who get campaign contributions from cable companies the only ones concerned about set-top boxes?

The Federal Communications Commission is expected to further tweak its proposal to mandate that pay-TV providers make their content available on third-party set-top boxes. The revelation came to light on Tuesday during a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. The Morning Consult reported that:

Democrats in Congress and at the commission are starting to rethink certain aspects of the FCC’s proposal to allow consumers to access cable content without the obligation of renting a set-top box. They are concerned that the proposal lacks proper safeguards for copyrighted cable content and that it will hurt minority programming.

The meeting was the sixth hearing on oversight of the FCC. Even if you watched just a little of Tuesday’s hearing, you might be left asking who really needs the oversight. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn) questioned FCC Commissioners about whether they believed the set-top box proposal passed in February was flawed. Blackburn apparently didn’t want to hear anything from Chairman Tom Wheeler and other members other than “yes” or “no” answers. Wheeler got out a short reply — “Everything is divined to seek improvement.” – before Blackburn shot back, “I said yes or no, OK.”

Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn didn’t take the bait, throwing the ridiculous question-and-answer format back at Blackburn by replying “yes or no.” It wasn’t exactly the kind of open dialogue that Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) suggested at the outset of the hearing. But you can judge the exchange yourself with this sampling below:

Blackburn should be credited for disclosing that her opinions about the set-top box rule came after an enlightening meeting with the U.S. Copyright Office and people in the cable industry. During her questioning, she suggested that the set-top box proposal would render content “worthless” if it were enacted. (An assertion that FCC commissioners disagreed with.) What’s troubling about Blackburn’s pop quiz to FCC Commissioners wasn’t just her curt tone, but that it was firmly seated within the concerns of the cable industry and not her constituents who continue to pay hundreds of dollars a year for renting cable boxes.

Big cable companies among top 20 donors to Blackburn

According to OpenSecrets.org, cable providers like Comcast, AT&T and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association ranked in the top 20 donors to Blackburn’s campaign committee between 2015 and 2016.

Her committee took in $49,500 from the groups. But that’s just a little scratch compared to what her committee has drawn from big cable in years past, according to a compilations of stories in Wikipedia.

She is a staunch opponent of Net neutrality in the United States and municipal broadband initiatives. As of March 2015 her campaign has accepted at least $221,900 from contributors in the telecommunications industry. These include AT&T and Comcast who have strongly lobbied against net neutrality.[41][42][43] She supported bills that restrict municipalities from creating their own broadband networks, and wrote a bill to prevent the FCC from interfering on behalf of communities.[44][45]

By the way, campaign contributions like the ones for Blackburn are just a small sampling that can be found throughout the legislative chambers in Washington D.C.

How committee membership equals campaign contributions

She should not be viewed as the lone whipping post for campaign finance.  The campaign committee for Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), who had his own questions to ask Tuesday on behalf of the cable industry, raked in $40,500 with big cable ranking among his top 20 contributors as well. It’s not entirely clear that big cable got their money’s worth on Tuesday because Rush didn’t appear to know what he was really asking. Check it out and see what you think:

Who takes in the most campaign cash on the subcommittee, you ask?

The chairman, of course. Big cable companies and associate groups donated $127,700 to Walden’s campaign committee. Not to be outdone, Alphabet Inc. – the parent company of Google – also kicked in $18,200 within the last year.

Here’s a question nobody asked on Tuesday: Does anyone honestly believe that Wheeler or anyone at the FCC isn’t concerned about copyright issues? FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel provided a clever answer that even threw a little shade on Blackburn’s “copyright” concerns and schoolmarm style. As reported in the Consult:
“My office has met with the Copyright Office, and I know that the Copyright Office has expressed concern about just what you described, and so I think more work is necessary on our part,” Rosenworcel said regarding programmers’ fear that their licensing agreements and revenue streams are in jeopardy.

Congress for cable vs Congress for customers

Tuesday’s oversight hearing was in striking contrast to one held a few weeks ago by Sen. Claire McCaskill, who led a year-long inquiry into the business practices of how cable and satellite TV providers treat consumers. It’s been many, many years since my civics lesson in grade school about how Washington D.C. works, so maybe my memory is a little fuzzy. But maybe one day, members of the subcommittee can go visit McCaskill’s office and get a crash course on representing actual constituents instead of large corporations. And by the way, is it really that hard to sustain a career in politics without all that money. I mean, come on guysHow about this for a new rule: anyone who wants to sit on a subcommittee has to have a placard next to their name showing the amount of campaign money they’ve taken in from a related industry. Am I just crazy and out of touch? Share your stories and thoughts about money in politics below.

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