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Broadband Providers Fire Back at White House for Backing FCC Set-Top Rules

A Washington-based trade group representing broadband providers sharply criticized the Obama administration on Friday for backing an FCC proposal aimed at expanding competition in the TV set-top box market.

“When the president ‘calls upon’ his appointees and an agency chairman who serves at his pleasure to act in a particular way, he is ‘directing’ them, and all credibility in the independence of the agency and trust in the administrative process evaporates,” said Walter McCormick, president of the United States Telecom Association, in an emailed statement. “The legitimacy of this rulemaking proceeding has now been irreparably compromised.”

The group issued its statement in response to a filing that the head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration made with the FCC, on behalf of the Obama administration, in which it applauded the agency for advancing a proposal that would give third-party manufacturers the information and access they need to create their own TV set top boxes. The agency voted along party lines in February to approve the plan.

This is not the first time President Obama has weighed in on FCC business. In 2014, he issued a statement saying the FCC should create a set of rules to ensure net neutrality among internet providers, and the agency ultimately adopted net neutrality rules in February of 2015 that closely resembled what the president had called for.

USTelecom, which advocates for the broadband service industry and represents such companies as AT&T Inc. and CenturyLink Inc., has previously said it opposes the set-top proposal, and it’s not alone. USTelecom, Broadband companies, cable providers, trade associations, and other firms and advocacy groups have all banded together in a coalition to oppose the rules.

On the other side of the issue, Google Inc., New America’s Open Technology Institute, and several other firms and advocacy groups have formed their own group to support the rules.