The fate of the Federal Communications Commission’s set-top-box proposal, which would reduce the control cable companies like Comcast Corp. (CMCSA) and AT&T’s DirecTV (T) have over the industry has been delayed, interjecting more uncertainty into the issue.
The panel was set to vote Thursday on the rule put forth by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, but ahead of what could be an industry altering rule, the FCC said the vote has been postponed. In a statement on the FCC website, the agency said the Set-Top-Box Order has been removed from the September meeting agenda.The proposal will go on the commission’s circulation list and remain under consideration.
Three Dems on Panel Still Support Reform
In a statement the three Democrats on the panel—Wheeler, Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel—said, “It’s time for consumers to say goodbye to costly set-top boxes. It’s time for more ways to watch and more lower-cost options. That’s why we have been working to update our policies under Section 629 of the Communications Act in order to foster a competitive market for these devices. We have made tremendous progress—and we share the goal of creating a more innovative and inexpensive market for these consumer devices. We are still working to resolve the remaining technical and legal issues and we are committed to unlocking the set-top box for consumers across this country.”
The FCC is expected to take the proposal to a final vote in the coming weeks.
During a recent Senate hearing, Rosenworcel said she had some issues with the proposal to create a licensing body. Rosenworcel wondered if the FCC even has the legal authority to do that. That idea was taken out of the proposal, but the FCC does want to have some oversight in how contracts are put together to ensure the plan works. Republicans are already against the plan. (See also: FCC’s Set-Top Box Plan Comes to a Vote.)
Wheeler Says Consumers Lack Choice
Wheeler, a critic of the cable industry, argues subscribers have little choice but to pay an average of $231 a year to rent boxes from cable and satellite TV companies. Under the proposed rule, pay-TV providers would be required to provide consumers with a free app to access all the programming they pay for on a variety of devices, including tablets, smartphones, game systems, streaming devices and smart TVs. Consumers would pay a monthly subscription fee but no longer pay a monthly rental fee for the box.
Wheeler originally wanted to set terms for licensing new software and devices that would enable customers to access pay-TV shows without a set-top cable box. Facing backlash from AT&T, Comcast, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, an industry trade group and politicians, Wheeler amended the original proposal. (See also: FCC Head Open to Set-Top Box Rules Change.)