Racial Justice Groups and Independent Producers Urge the FCC to Unlock the Box

Contact Info: 

Timothy Karr, 201-533-8838

WASHINGTON — A coalition of more than 30 organizations, including racial justice groups and independent content creators, filed a letter with the Federal Communications Commission on Monday as part of the agency’s set-top box rulemaking.

The letter, signed by groups including 18 Million Rising, the Center for Media Justice, ColorOfChange, Free Press and Kweli TV, urges the agency to adopt new rules that would allow consumers to buy their own set-top boxes and view cable-TV programming on the device of their choosing. Currently customers must rent such boxes from their cable providers.

As the letter explains, opening up the set-top box market will lower customers’ monthly cable bills and enable independent content creators, including video programmers of color, to bypass cable gatekeepers and find larger audiences.

The FCC is considering new rules that would allow third-party manufacturers to create set-top boxes that seamlessly integrate pay-TV and online streaming programs.  

Cable companies oppose the FCC’s effort because the industry rakes in $20 billion per year in revenue from set-top box rentals, and it doesn’t want the competition from online video programming appearing next to cable-TV offerings.

“Unlocking the box represents an end to the buffoonery, gatekeeping and lack of competition our communities have suffered from for far too long,” said GFNTV.com CEO Clifford Franklin. “The FCC has our enthusiastic support for this important initiative.”

“For too long, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been underrepresented and misrepresented in network and cable television, driving many of us to find culturally relevant content through streaming video,” said 18 Million Rising Media Justice Campaigner Mark Tseng Putterman. “We cannot let so-called concerns about diversity be co-opted by big-cable interests in order to derail the FCC’s proposal. Asian Americans and other communities of color stand to benefit from an end to the cable industry’s stranglehold on the set-top box platform.”

“The FCC’s proposal to unlock the box will not only result in lower cable bills, but will also create greater opportunities for video programmers of color to bypass the cable gatekeepers and distribute programming that our communities deserve but rarely receive,” said Free Press Senior External Affairs Director Joseph Torres.  

“We believe unlocking set-top boxes is an important step toward increasing diversity in TV programming,” said Center for Media Justice Senior Campaign Manager Steven Renderos. “Through a consumer-friendly approach, the FCC’s proposal on set-top boxes will hopefully put money back in the pockets of hard-working families while making it easier for people of color to create and distribute video content.”

“In the last 20 years we’ve seen our cable bills go up by 185 percent — a number that far outpaces inflation — thanks to a lack of competition,” said ColorOfChange Campaign Director Brandi Collins. “This has allowed companies like Comcast to bilk consumers by charging them outrageous rates to lease their set-top boxes. These new rules could prevent consumers from being locked into contracts and conditions dictated by monopolistic cable companies and instead have access to fair pricing and a world of choices for their own user experience.”

The full text of the letter is available here: http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=60002018076.