TV Industry Group Hints Google Has Inside Access at the FCC

A coalition formed by the MPAA and telecoms speaks of "Top Secret meetings" and "hoodwinked" viewers.
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File

A fight over the future of television is quickly becoming nasty with the industry establishment summoning the involvement of a tech colossus in an effort to stop government interference in the delivery of programming.

On Wednesday, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler put forward a proposal to unlock the cable set-top box and "tear down anti-competitive barriers" that have led to consumers paying on average $231 a year in rental fees. If the FCC votes to accept the plan, and if it survives possible litigation, cable and satellite providers will have to deliver video programming to app and device makers in a format that conforms to specifications set by an independent, open standards body. The proposal is being issued with the goal of having new TV devices enter the market that could give consumers a cheaper way to access and search content.

Wheeler insists that the proposal doesn't amount to a government-mandate and that it won't upset contracts between cable companies and content owners spelling out such features as channel placement, on-demand access and place- and time-shifting. He also has asserted that intellectual property, security and privacy will be sacrosanct in the new system.

But that's not stopping a dubious industry from unleashing the power of the poison pen to cut down Wheeler's plan.

The MPAA, cable and satellite companies and other opposers of the proposal have coalesced into an organization called The Future of TV. On Friday, this group sent out a press release titled, "Secret Google Field Trip To Demonstrate Technology the FCC Says Doesn’t Exist."

According to the letter, Congressional staffers "received an unusual off-the-record email Thursday, inviting them to an invite-only meeting at Google’s DC office to 'test drive' something called the “competitive video solution."

The coalition is suspicious of the timing, wondering how exactly it is that Google is demonstrating a new set-top box just days after the FCC proposal was announced and before any open standards body has gotten a chance to come up with specifications.

Going just a few inches short of straight-out accusing Google of having some sort of corrupting insider access at the FCC, the coalition muses, "If we didn’t know better, we might think Google had a sneak preview of the FCC’s new proposal. Or maybe they’re just amazingly confident they will be able to dominate the supposedly 'open' standards setting process, ramming through specs cooked up in Google’s Silicon Valley labs."

The invective hardly stops there.

After raising doubts about the prospect of a truly open regulatory process, Google is flat-out charged with spying on its users. The press release speaks about TV viewers who "already endure Google reading their email and tracking their Internet searches – and could now be hoodwinked into handing over detailed, individualized records of what they watch on TV without having to live by any of the privacy protections that Congress requires of other pay TV providers."

Google hasn't yet responded to a request for comment, but it would hardly be much of a surprise if the tech giant addresses word of its "invitation-only, Top Secret meetings" in Washington D.C. with tales of how Hollywood and the telecom behemoths are lobbying in their own right. Interestingly, though, the missive about Google's endeavors comes the morning after frenemies Fox and Google worked together to air a televised debate of Republican presidential contenders.