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FCC strikes set-top box vote from meeting agenda

In asign that a compromise could not be reached in time, the FCC said ahead of itsSept. 29 open meeting that a vote on FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's set-top boxproposal had beenpostponed.

Specifically,the vote was deleted as an agenda item shortly before the meeting began. Theproposal aims to open up the set-top box market by requiring any operator withmore than 400,000 subscribers to offer a free app that provides access to allthe programming consumers would otherwise receive through a leased set-top box.

TheFCC said the item "remains on circulation," meaning that a vote couldhappen some time in the near future.

Duringa press conference after the Sept. 29 meeting, Wheeler said the decision wasnot an indication that a compromise was impossible. "This was, 'Oops, weran out of time.'"

Henoted that the staffs of the various commissioners had been going "backand forth on edits" and working nights on the proposal. "It's notunusual that commission items run up to the last minute," the chairmansaid.

Thepostponement is not necessarily unexpected given the that surrounded theproposal. One of the central points of contention has been the role the commissionwill play in the licensing process. Specifically, the proposal calls for thecreation of a copyright licensing board that would be overseen by the FCC.

Criticshave said the FCC has no authority to interfere with licensing or copyrightnegotiations. And importantly, as recently as a Sept. 15 Senate committeehearing, Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, along with RepublicanCommissioners Michael O'Rielly and Ajit Pai, said they were among those withconcerns.

"Ihave some problems with … the FCC getting a little bit too involved in thelicensing scheme here," Rosenworcel said at the , adding she does not believe theFCC has the necessary legal authority.

O'Riellyagreed, saying in written testimony, "The proposed rule would ultimatelyset the commission up as arbiter of a compulsory license, which the CopyrightOffice confirmed we have no authority to do under current law."

Forhis part, Wheeler has previously noted the FCC has a statutory mandate under theTelecommunications Act of 1996 to create rules that would make set-top boxesavailable for purchase at retail stores. He has promised that the FCC willfulfill that mandate this year.

"Thelaw says the commission shall provide for competitive choice," Wheelersaid during an August pressconference. "Make no mistake — we will obey the law."

Wheelerreiterated that pledge in a joint statement with his fellow Democrats on thecommission, Rosenworcel and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. "It's time forconsumers to say goodbye to costly set-top boxes," they said on Sept. 29."We are still working to resolve the remaining technical and legal issuesand we are committed to unlocking the set-top box for consumers across thiscountry."