Regulators voted to begin writing rules that would expose cable and satellite companies’ set-top boxes to competing devices, saying more choices for the video gateway into homes could help develop new options for viewers.
The Federal Communications Commission approved Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal on a 3-2 Democratic-led vote. The plan was backed by Google and opposed by AT&T, owner of DirecTV, and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which represents providers including No. 1 Comcast Corp. The agency’s two Republican commissioners dissented.
“Consumers deserve a break and a choice,” Wheeler said. “The issue is whether you are forced to rent that box every month, after month, after month.”
The vote begins a months-long period during which the agency will take public comments on setting standards for devices or software, leading to a vote at a date not yet determined. The aim is to foster a profusion of choices, much as wireless customers can select from dozens of phones not made by their service provider.
Cable companies say the change will harm their business as online competitors unfairly profit by selling ads and viewer data from shows.
The agency “adopted an unbalanced notice seemingly predestined to lead to a new, anti-consumer government technology mandate on video set-top boxes,” Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen said in a blog post. “We hope the FCC will ultimately decide against this major step backwards.”
The FCC’s dissenters said the agency was interfering in a rapidly developing market that features applications that grant access to cable programming.
“Most consumers would rather eliminate the set-top box altogether than embrace a complex regulatory scheme that will require them to have another box in their home,” said Commissioner Ajit Pai, the agency’s senior Republican.
Set-top box maker TiVo welcomed the FCC’s move. “The FCC’s rule-making is important to ensure choice for consumers, operators, and content creators,” said Matt Zinn, TiVo’s general counsel.