October 15th, 2012

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This is what boils my blood

It is perhaps silly of me, but it goes to the heart of why I went into advocacy.

FCC issued a relatively minor order on Friday that allows cable operators to encrypt their basic tier so they can move to all digital. That means "cable ready" TVs and equipment won't work anymore without a set-top box (STB). Among other issues, the FCC proposed that subscribers on Medicaid could get subsidized STBs so they will not experience an immediate price increase. We pushed to expand that to other poverty programs, since Medicaid varies tremendously between the states and many people who deserve subsidy will not get it. We asked the Median Bureau to use the same criteria as the Wireline Bureau does for Lifeline/Linkup.

The Media Bureau, at the behest of the cable operators, rejected this as too complicated. That is to say, while the Wireline Bureau is sufficiently concerned that poor people get telephone service that they figure telephone companies can figure out multiple means of identifying poor people. The Media Bureau is concerned the cable companies would find this too burdensome so it is better to let some folks who deserve the subsidy do without. After all, who is the Media Bureau to protect, poor people or cable companies?

It is a minor thing (unless you are poor enough that it matters) in an order where we won the more important policy fight of making sure equipment manufacturers still have access to the basic tier. But it sticks in my craw that that the MB put cable operators ahead of poor people.