FCC chairman Tom Wheeler just made a big step toward unlocking cable boxes. He circulated for a vote on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking “that would tear down anti-competitive barriers” surrounding set-top boxes, and his proposal was approved 3-2, according to Ars Technica.
The chairman has been clear in the past about his opinion that subscribers to cable services such as Comcast, Time Warner, and Cox should have greater flexibility in choosing set-top boxes, including the ability to use third-party hardware and apps. His proposal highlighted this need, along with the fact that the average price for a set-top box has increased by 185 percent since 1994, a rate three times greater that of the Consumer Price Index over the same period.
The proposal makes the case that offering consumers more choices will bring greater competition. This is turn would not only lower prices for consumers but encourage innovation. It “paves the way for user-friendly interfaces that integrate pay-TV and streaming content on one device,” according to the proposal.
It’s good news for companies that would be able to produce the rival devices and apps, and therefore many tech companies have been staunch supporters. Past comments from Google and TiVo, for example, have addressed similar benefits to the ones touted in the proposal. Cable providers, on the other hand, have been very opposed to talk of such a proposal. Comcast previously criticized the FCC on the subject, saying that its “track record on these types of technology mandates has been less than stellar” and arguing that consumer costs would actually rise.
Opponents and supporters alike will be able to have their say. The FCC’s vote was just the first step in a long process that includes a public comment period, a chance for members of the public to reply to comments, among other proceedings.