FCC's Plan To Replace Cable Box With Apps Garners Support From Writers Union

The Motion Picture Association of America and other Hollywood organizations have made clear that they oppose a Federal Communications Commission proposal that would require cable companies to make programs available through apps.

But not everyone who works in show business objects to the plan. The Writers Guild of America, West says it believes the proposal will benefit a diverse array of groups.

"It gives consumers real choice ... and promotes competition," the writers union says in a letter sent this week to the Senate Commerce Committee. "At the same time, it will protect copyright and the programming available to consumers."

The plan, unveiled last week by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, would require cable and satellite providers to make TV programs available to subscribers through apps that would run on popular platforms, including Roku, Apple, iOS, Windows and Android.

Wheeler's plan also includes provisions for a "standard license governing the process for placing an app on a device or platform."

Details remain vague, but the FCC said in a fact sheet that a standard license will enable device manufacturers to create new products. "Programmers will have a seat at the table to ensure that content remains protected ... The FCC will serve as a backstop to ensure that nothing in the standard license will harm the marketplace for competitive devices," the agency stated.

If the proposal passes, consumers will no longer have to pay an average of $231 a year in set-top-box rental fees to watch TV. Instead, most cable and satellite subscribers will be able to watch programs on smartphones, tablets and other devices.

The MPAA and other opponents of the proposal particularly object to the provisions surrounding licenses. The groups argue that the FCC is effectively proposing a "compulsory licensing regime."

But the Writers Guild says the FCC's licensing provisions will help guarantee that cable providers can't use licenses to harm competitors.

At this point, it's unclear whether the agency will pass the rules, given that Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel -- a critical swing vote -- appears undecided. During a Senate hearing yesterday, Rosenworcel said she wasn't sure whether the FCC was authorized to move forward with its licensing plan.

For his part, Wheeler said he remains open to revising the proposal, but hasn't yet spelled out how he would do so.

The FCC is scheduled to vote on the plan during its Sept. 29 meeting.  

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