FCC Urged To Delay 'Controversial' Proposals

The Federal Communications Commission should hold off on passing "controversial" rules until the Trump administration takes over, the head of the Senate Commerce Committee said this week.

"It would be counterproductive for the FCC to consider complex and controversial items that the new Congress and new Administration will have an interest in reviewing," Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota) said in a letter sent Tuesday to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Thune added that former lawmakers Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) made a similar request to outgoing FCC Chairman Kevin Martin in late 2008, shortly before Barack Obama's inauguration.

Thune didn't mention any proposals by name. But the FCC currently is considering several "complex and controversial" items, including a proposal for new set-top-box rules that could let consumers access pay TV through apps.

Earlier this year, Wheeler pushed for new rules enabling pay-TV subscribers to shed pricey set-top boxes -- which cost an estimated $231 a year on average. Specifically, he proposed that cable providers should make their programs available via apps.

The FCC had the item on its agenda for September,but faced with pushback by the cable industry, scrapped the scheduled vote at the last minute.

Since then, consumer advocates have pressed Wheeler to pass the rules this year, while there is still a Democratic majority. As recently as Thursday, Consumers Union urged the FCC to enact the proposed rules, arguing they will "free consumers from the de facto set-top box monopoly and provide relief from ever increasing cable rates."

Cable boxes aren't the only controversial item still on Wheeler's agenda. The FCC also recently began investigating issues surrounding data caps -- including whether AT&T's decision to exempt video offered through DirecTV's app from subscribers' data caps violates net neutrality principles. The agency expressed concerns last week that AT&T's zero-rating scheme, called Sponsored Data, effectively favors its own video over material offered by competitors -- like Hulu, Netflix or Amazon. "The terms and conditions under which Sponsored Data is offered to content providers unaffiliated with AT&T, combined with current practice of zero-rating DirecTV video applications for AT&T Mobility subscribers, may obstruct competition and harm consumers," Jon Wilkins, chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, wrote to AT&T last week.

Wheeler hasn't yet said whether he will refrain from passing new rules, or acting on other unfinished business, before the Trump administration comes in. 

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