Against the will of the cable industry, the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday pushed forward the "Unlock the Box" proposal to unbound set-top boxes.
It's an effort to pave the way for more innovation in software, hardware and solutions related to the way people consume pay TV.
About 99 percent of pay TV customers are limited to buying or leasing whatever boxes their cable or satellite TV providers offer. These "anti-competitive barriers" have amounted to average of what the FCC figures to be $231 in annual rental fees for the average household.
The proposed rules would require that MVPDs (Multichannel Video Programming Distributors) disclose information about what programming options are available to a given subscriber, what services, such as DVR, that individual is entitled to and data on the delivery of the content itself.
The FCC also proposes that third parties respect the advertising limits to children, indiscriminately relay emergency alerts, provide transparent billing, and respect the commission's rules on consumer-owned CableCARD devices and the associated "integration ban." The ban allows third parties, like Tivo, to leverage MVPDs' decryption technology.
To ensure that the pay TV industry is protected, the proposal requires that third parties certify their adherence to policies much like those which MVPDs comply with now.
The cable and satellite industry, through its recently formed Future of TV Coalition, has railed against the proposal as being "a solution in search of a problem" and even accused the FCC of going in cahoots with Google. AT&T's federal regulatory senior vice president Bob Quinn didn't back off on his side's message on Thursday.
"While consumers are embracing an apps-based approach that offers a variety of content on more than 450 devices, the FCC has chosen to go down a path that threatens the very competition and innovation that has led to this vibrant marketplace," Quinn said.
All the FCC is saying through this proposal is that cable operators need to open up their platform to innovations from third parties, stated FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in an interview with Variety. Cable operators can continue to control their products, he added.
"Let's have the cable company say, 'You want to pay me for my interface, because it does all these things nobody else does.' Rather than, 'You must pay me,'" said Wheeler. "We are just trying to get to that basic American concept of competition."