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Cornyn Calls on FCC’s Wheeler to Delay Set-Top Box Vote

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) on Tuesday sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler requesting that the agency delay voting on final rules regarding cable set-top boxes until after the Senate Judiciary Committee has had a chance to review the full text of the proposal.

“The Judiciary Committee, on which I serve, has jurisdiction over privacy rights and copyright law, and therefore, should be afforded the opportunity to review the text of the FCC’s proposal before the agency votes to adopt it,” Cornyn wrote in the letter.

The FCC released a revised, apps-based set-top box proposal about two weeks ago, when it also said the commission intends to vote on the rule on Sept. 29. Though Wheeler circulated the full proposal to his fellow commissioners, lawmakers and the public have only received a fact sheet outlining the basic principles of the plan.

In the letter, Cornyn expressed concern over the FCC’s plan to create and oversee a copyright licensing body to develop a standard license between programmers, distributors and device manufacturers.

Cornyn said that approach “seem[s] to impose a compulsory copyright on programmers,” something he says the U.S. Copyright Office recently concluded only Congress has the authority to impose. He also said Wheeler’s new proposal could allow device manufacturers access to a wide range of pay-TV subscribers’ personal information, including their viewing habits and data on the services to which they subscribe.

“The Judiciary Committee should review the proposal to ensure consumer privacy protections are not being overlooked in the name of device manufacturers profiting from data mining,” Cornyn wrote.

Pushback from a diverse array of industry stakeholders has dimmed the prospects for Wheeler’s revised proposal. During an FCC oversight hearing convened last week by the Senate Commerce Committee, several of Wheeler’s fellow commissioners — including Democratic commissioner and expected swing vote Jessica Rosenworcel — said they were concerned the FCC did not have the authority to create and oversee a proposed copyright licensing regime.