FCC postpones vote on set-top box rules

In a setback for consumers and a victory for cable, the FCC has postponed a vote on new rules for set-top boxes.

The rules would’ve required TV programming to be made available on other devices besides cable boxes, but the commission said in a statement Thursday that “we’re still working to resolve the remaining technical and legal issues.”

Still, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Democratic FCC commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel also said: “We are committed to unlocking the set-top box for consumers across this country.”

The other two FCC commissioners, Republicans Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly, were against the proposal. The new rules also were opposed by cable and satellite companies, which would have been in danger of losing their stranglehold on set-top box leases. Cable companies reportedly make about $20 billion a year on renting out set-top boxes.

Requiring TV programming to be available to be streamed on TiVos, Apple TVs or other devices could have saved consumers hundreds of dollars a year.

The delay of the FCC vote is hardly surprising. A couple of days ago, reports circulated that Rosenworcel was concerned that the agency would have to get involved in regulating licensing terms and conditions related to programming. She would have provided the third vote Wheeler needed to pass the new rules.

Other opponents included Hollywood studios, which feared they would lose control over their programming.

In the face of all the opposition, Wheeler rolled out a revised plan that our own Troy Wolverton pointed out was watered down, anyway. Instead of requiring operators to provide streaming content, they would’ve been required to make apps for the alternative devices — but with plenty of caveats. Now even that proposal is on hold.

Public advocacy groups aren’t happy, but “now that the vote has been delayed, the FCC should focus on strengthening this proposal — and that means standing up to an industry that will never stop trying to kill competition and keep prices high,” Matt Wood, policy director for Free Press, said in an emailed statement.


Photo: Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, outside the Blue Bottle cafe in Palo Alto on June 15, 2016. (Troy Wolverton/Mercury News)


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  • MPA200

    I don’t have to rent a Modem, why do I have to rent a top box?

  • Easy Ed

    Sold out again, the current FCC should all be fired and start over again. It is time to start tracking the money.

  • Jim Bray-Old school security

    Republicans Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly are good examples of lobbyist puppets that are addicted to easy money and to vote for the highest bidder. I guess this is nothing new, the beat goes on!