New FCC Chairman Has Spoken: Set-Top Box Proposal Is Now Officially Dropped


Newly appointed Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai pulled out the proposed set-top box policy from the agency's top agenda. While the proposal, which aims to encourage alternative choices to TV boxes provided by major pay-TV providers, has not been thrown out of the window, observers consider the move as a prelude to its demise.

According to FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield the proposal is still being considered, although it is not a priority. He reassured its advocates that it could surface sometime in the future and could be put to vote, although with some modifications.

"It's standard practice for items to come off the list in a change of administration," Wigfield said in a Variety report.

One should note, however, that Pai has been opposing this measure since it was introduced so its fate is almost sealed at this point.

Set-Top Box Proposal

The set-top box proposal has been pushed by the previous FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. It initially entailed the creation of an open-standard platform that can allow third-party manufacturers to sell their own devices — those that also offer pay-TV programming.

The proposal has been met with strong opposition from the entertainment industry, particularly cable and TV providers as well as Hollywood studios. The argument is that it will purportedly rack in additional costs that will not benefit customers in addition to copyright infringement concerns.

The current proposal has been modified to force pay-TV operators into offering free apps on streaming devices. In a Twitter post Wheeler criticized Pai's decision, pointing out that helpless customers will bear the brunt in the long run.

Unlocking The Set-Top Box

According to Recode, Google has been the most vocal advocate of unlocking the set-top box. If passed, it would allow anyone to build their own set-top boxes used to stream TV and video content. The proposal has already prompted some companies to offer services aligned with its objectives.

For example, Comcast is now letting its subscribers watch streaming and on-demand content on apps available on iOS and Android platforms. With the recent development, even these changes are at risk of getting scrapped.

Critics are also closely watching the FCC since Pai is widely expected to overturn the current net neutrality rule. This is the policy that requires internet service providers to treat all data on the web equally, banning any form of discrimination and unfair charges imposed on users and content.

Pai has maintained that this policy does not achieve any benefit to consumers, treating it as a mere obstruction to business, investment, and job creation.

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