FCC Delays Revolutionary Set-Top Box Vote: Moment Of Truth For Cable Providers And Subscribers Is Not Now


The Federal Communications Commission was supposed to cast a historic vote that could substantially disrupt the cable box, but it just delayed the decision.

The FCC vote in question refers to the controversial proposal that would force major cable companies to de-couple cable subscriptions from cable set-top boxes and offer their channels as free apps for major platforms such as Android and iOS.

The Commission's vote has been eagerly anticipated, but the FCC has now decided to postpone it because it still has some "technical and legal issues" to work out.

"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," says FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. "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."

Wheeler introduced the controversial proposal earlier this year, initially urging content providers to allow cable and satellite subscribers to access cable content on any set-top box, including the likes of Roku or Apple TV, rather than having to lease a set-top box from cable companies such as Time Warner Cable or Comcast.

Cable companies obviously opposed this since their interest is to have as much control as possible over content and the way it's displayed. The FCC's proposal met plenty of resistance, but the Commission is not backing down.

Earlier this month, the proposal saw some significant changes in response to vehement opposition from cable companies. The revised proposal requires cable companies to develop apps for all major platforms including Android, iOS, Windows and Roku, and offer access to all of their programming — both on-demand and live. Moreover, cable providers also have to ensure open access to their catalogs of content for search purposes.

The revised version of the proposal may not be as ambitious as the original one, but it's closer to what content providers may find reasonable enough to agree upon. At the same time, there is some worry that should the proposal pass, the FCC would be too involved in licensing programming.

In this context, more than 60 House Democrats reportedly signed a letter last week asking the FCC to remove the vote on this proposal from its agenda and instead release the full proposal with the revised rules so that it could get more public input.

The FCC ultimately decided to postpone the vote, but failed to disclose when it would be back on the agenda. For now, the proposal will enter the FCC's "circulation list" and "remain under consideration."

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