FCC to Vote on Pay-TV Set-top Box Later This Month

fcc-to-vote-set-top-boxes

The days of the pay-TV set-top box may be numbered.

The Federal Communications Commission will vote later this month on rules requiring pay-TV providers to make free apps available that would work on other devices and video game consoles.

Unlocking the set-top box has been an issue of emphasis for FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who brought up a proposal in January. The five-member commission voted 3-2 in February to begin the rule-making process.

But Wheeler has shifted his strategy over the seven-month process. As initially proposed, new rules would spur pay-TV providers and third-party innovators to create apps and new methods that could bypass traditional boxes that serve to deliver signals to TVs.

After consulting with content companies, pay-TV companies, consumer groups, developers and others, Wheeler said in an editorial published in the Los Angeles Times Thursday that the rules, which he has circulated to the rest of the commission for a vote at its Sept. 29 meeting, should keep “the delivery of pay-TV programming … overseen by pay-TV providers from end-to-end.”

Rather than requiring pay-TV companies to license a content protection system that third-party software developers or device makers could use to make new TV interfaces — as was among the original proposal — the new rules mandate pay-TV providers themselves make free apps that consumers can use. Third-party developers could still work with pay-TV providers for apps and devices, too.

The end result should be the same, he said. “If adopted, these consumer-first rules would pave the way for a competitive marketplace for new devices that enhance the TV-watching experience,” he said in a blog on the FCC website. “Bottom line: consumers will no longer have to rent a set-top box just to watch the programming they already pay for.”

The new rules would protect current copyrights and licensing agreements. Pay-TV providers must make the free apps available on all popular platforms including Android and iOS devices, Roku, Amazon Fire and video game consoles.

Apps will deliver all linear and on-demand programming available through standard set-top boxes. Using the apps, consumers will be able to search pay-TV content and content found on other Net TV services such as Netflix and Hulu.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Mike Snider

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