The FCC has good news this morning for cable and satellite companies, but bad news for their subscribers who hate the set-top boxes they usually must lease in order to watch TV.
The agency’s new chairman, Ajit Pai, has removed from its agenda consideration of a proposal that would have made it possible for independent manufacturers to sell boxes that could replace the ones providers supply. The FCC says that 99% of subscribers pay an average of $231 a year to lease the boxes, even well after they’ve covered the cost of the devices.
Former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler led the charge for a rule that would have required pay TV distributors to offer subscribers free, FCC-approved apps that they could download to the device of their choice to watch programming.
Congress ordered the FCC in several laws to find a way to give subscribers an alternative to the operator-provided boxes that unencrypt transmissions. For example, a 2014 law governing satellite services told regulators to come up with “a not unduly burdensome, uniform, and technology- and platform neutral software-based downloadable security system” to provide competition.
But opponents, including Pai, said that Wheeler’s proposal would interfere with arrangements that networks make with distributors about advertising, security, and channel placement, among other things.
The MPAA sided with cable and satellite companies, and cheered Pai’s decision.
CEO Chris Dodd says that while “we support competition within the set-top box market,” it should not come “at the expense of copyright policy or the livelihoods of millions of American creators.”
Last year Pai said, in his objection to Wheeler’s proposal, that “the Commission should focus on ways to ditch the set-top box and embrace the video marketplace of the future.”
In September, Comcast said the proposed change would “stop the apps revolution dead in its tracks by imposing an overly complicated government licensing regime and heavy-handed regulation in a fast-moving technological space.”
AT&T also said the initiative should be “discarded” because it had “copyright and privacy concerns.”
Consumer advocates disagreed. For example, Consumers Union gave the proposal its seal of approval saying it could “save American families hundreds of dollars a year in device fees. This proposal is an important step in giving consumers new, innovative choices in a market that’s had limited — if any — competition for years.”