As Television Gets Better, Congress Works to Make It Worse

Washington politicians want credit for improving your television viewing experience. That’s why they’re working to impose new restrictions and mandates on cable television providers. From Variety:

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, is expressing doubts about the FCC’s latest set-top box proposal, which would require cable operators to offer apps of their channel feeds.

“As I’ve said before, consumers do not like set-top boxes — they are clunky, outdated, and needlessly expensive,” he said in a statement on Monday. “While I commend Chairman Wheeler for working to solve this difficult issue, I’m concerned that this latest proposal will not work, particularly when it comes to licensing. Ultimately, I’m skeptical that the revised plan will benefit consumers.”

Last week, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler unveiled a proposal that would require that cable operators offer free apps that would enable subscribers to forgo the rental of set-top boxes. A licensing body, made up of representatives the cable and satellite business and content providers, would license the app to device makers, but the FCC would have oversight.

The absurdity of this effort cannot be overstated. The innovation which led us to a point where apps can deliver video content to our living rooms was not a product of Congress. It was developed in the market as an effort to earn profit. That same profit motive, if left to work its magic, will eventually produce alternatives to the established multichannel distributor model. Indeed, it already has. That’s why cable-cutting has grown in recent years.

While this effort is cloaked as a means to prevent “anti-competitive” behavior, it seems more likely to prevent competition than ensure it. By conspiring with Congress to form a new licensing body to control how multichannel distributors deliver content, the cable and satellite industry stands poised to lock out competitors. They will define who qualifies to deliver content, and impose rules designed to prevent innovation.

It’s like propping up blacksmiths in the era of the horseless carriage. This is anti-progress, anti-market, and anti-freedom.