Cable Industry: Forget “Unlock the Box”—Let’s Drop It Altogether

Smarting from a controversial FCC proposal involving set-top boxes, the cable industry offered an alternative that gets rid of the boxes entirely. The FCC welcomed the proposal, but a trade group representing companies likely to dip into the set-top box space was more skeptical.

The cable industry wasn’t happy with the Federal Communication Commission’s strategy for dealing with the unlocking of set-top boxes.

But instead of continuing to grumble, the industry, led by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), came up with an alternative. The idea? The industry wants to offer an option that would get rid of those power-sucking cable boxes entirely.

Last week, the NCTA and officials from television networks such as Revolt TV and TV One, along with major telecom firms such as AT&T and Comcast, met with FCC officials to pitch their plan, known as “ditch the box.” And the result, as highlighted by the Future of TV Coalition, actually received a warm response from the commission.

“Chairman Wheeler is heartened that the industry has adopted the primary goal of our proposal, to promote greater competition and choice for consumers, and agree it is achievable,” FCC press secretary Kim Hart told Broadcasting & Cable last week. “We all agree that third-party access to pay-tv content, integrated search, and the protection of copyright, content security, consumer privacy, and minority programmers are critical. There is a lot more work to do.”

The proposal [PDF] would allow consumers to replace their set-top box offerings with equivalent apps that are based on industry-standard technologies such as HTML5, as well as getting rid of the fees associated with those boxes.

Of course, while the proposal received a positive reaction from the FCC, less convinced are the members of INCOMPAS, a trade group representing some of the firms that stand to benefit with the “unlock the box” strategy, including Google and Netflix.

In comments to FierceCable, INCOMPAS CEO Chip Pickering said that the Future of TV had some positive points but failed to solve the problem that led to the discussion in the first place: It’s not possible at this point to compete with the cable companies by presenting alternative products. He also challenged the approach because the cable industry has not kept similar promises in the past.

“The cable industry has made promises before about ditching the set-top box that have not materialized,” Pickering said. “So it is important for the FCC’s unlock-the-box proposal to include enforceable standards that will create a thriving market for competition, congruent with the law.”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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