With market forces doing the job, TV doesn’t need federal regulation to push competition

Letter to the Editor by former Clinton Administration Undersecretary of Commerce Ev Ehrlich, appearing today in The Boston Globe, responds to the Globe’s editorial favoring FCC action on AllVid

Your editorial“FCC should unlock savings for cable consumers” (Feb. 10) accepts the Federal Communications Commission’s claim that new “AllVid”-style rules are needed to promote competition for TV boxes. But that focus overlooks who’s behind this push and who stands to gain the most: Google.

The idea that TV needs government regulation to become competitive is absurd on its face. Apple and Roku boxes and Web-based streaming services are winning the competition with cable and satellite as cord-cutting booms. You can search the Internet on any smart TV, and almost every new screen you own is an app-powered digital television. Market forces are already solving the box problem, and without any new FCC mandate at all. So why this new rule? Because Google and its allies want the same access to our TV viewing data that they already have to our e-mail and search history. And they want it on the cheap, without negotiating and paying for program rights, as Netflix and other new competitors must do.

The FCC says this is worth it because consumers will save money on their AllVid Google boxes. But the less complicated TiVo box costs hundreds of dollars up front or $15 a month — far more than the roughly $8 a month many viewers pay for their set-top box today.

Starting with President Clinton, Democrats have made the progressive case for smart regulation of telecommunications. It would be a shame if we now lost our way and validated Republican criticisms of regulation by using the power of the FCC to feather the nest of a corporate crony like Google.

Ev Ehrlich

Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

The writer was undersecretary of commerce from 1993 to 1997 and is president of ESC Co., an economics consulting firm.

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Originally published at www.bostonglobe.com on February 17, 2016.