Could the FCC’s proposed open set-top boxes accidentally encourage piracy?

cable subscribers loss q2 2016 set top box subscription
One common complaint from cable subscribers concerns the required equipment that must be leased from cable service providers in order to access their service. The companies maintain that this is necessary, but recently the FCC has proposed a new, more open approach that would allow customers to buy and use their own third-party set-top boxes.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is leading the charge on the new proposal, and President Barack Obama came out in favor of it last month. Predictably, the MPAA and other Hollywood groups including SAG-AFTRA warned that these open set-top boxes would lead to increased piracy and other copyright concerns. Now these groups are receiving support for this position from inside the government as well.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and congressman John Goyers have penned a letter (PDF link) to Wheeler voicing concerns about the new set-top boxes, TorrentFreak reports. The two lawmakers’ main concern is that users of these boxes would consider any apps installed on them to be perfectly legitimate, which could lead to accidental piracy if less-than-legal apps were to end up making their way on to the boxes.

“For example, apps such as Popcorn Time that focus on providing access to piratical content have tried to match the format and ease of use of legitimate apps to mask the theft of copyrighted content,” the lawmakers wrote. “Creators are legitimately worried about the prospect that future set top boxes, or their functional equivalents, could incorporate apps such as Popcorn Time or its functionality, or otherwise lead to the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted works.”

On the one hand, the ease with which Popcorn Time and similar apps provide access to pirated content does lend weight to the lawmakers’ claims. On the other hand, Popcorn Time is already available to a large user base, and achieved this status without relying on open set-top boxes, so it isn’t likely that its being available on a handful of new devices would lead to a massive increase in piracy.

As for what these set-top boxes would look like, our best guess is that they would come in somewhere between an Apple TV or Roku and a cable box, but since we’re only looking at a proposal, it’s unclear exactly how open they would be. The closest current example would be Comcast bringing its Xfinity app to Roku boxes and Samsung TVs, but both of these platforms are notably lacking a Popcorn Time app, and one doesn’t seem to be on the way anytime soon.

Piracy isn’t the only issue cable and satellite companies have with the open set-top box proposal, and they also argue that offering support to their customers will be more difficult with more hardware options available. Even so, customers fed up with paying a monthly fee per TV in use in their homes would probably gladly accept the trade-off.

Home Theater

Apple Music completes its Amazon migration, is now available on Fire TV

Amazon's popular Fire TV devices are now compatible with the most popular on-demand music streaming service in the United States, thanks to a new integration with Apple Music that has finally hit Fire TV devices.
Mobile

Rooting your Android device is risky. Do it right with our handy guide

Wondering whether to root your Android smartphone or stick with stock Android? Perhaps you’ve decided to do it and you just need to know how? Here, you'll find an explanation and a quick guide on how to root Android devices.
Movies & TV

No TV? No problem. Here's how to watch the Final Four online

Whether you want to watch the Big Dance on your phone or on your smart TV, we have the lowdown on all the ways to watch March Madness you can handle. Grab your foam finger and some nachos.
Home Theater

The best TVs you can buy right now, from budget to big screen

Looking for a new television? In an oversaturated market, buying power is at an all-time high, but you'll need to cut through the rough to find a diamond. We're here to help with our picks for the best TVs of 2019.
Home Theater

Smart speakers are about to get an IQ bump thanks to new Qualcomm chips

Qualcomm announced a new chipset that is designed to make the next generation of smart speakers sound, listen, and connect better than ever before, and it could soon be in your living room.
Home Theater

What year is this? Apple might drop a new iPod tomorrow

After two days of surprise hardware releases that have brought us new iPads and iMacs, rumor has it that we may see an update of Apple's iPod as soon as tomorrow, sparking a mixture of nostalgia and curiosity.
Home Theater

Dish TV customers can access up to 13 NCAA March Madness games in 4K

If you're a basketball fan looking to get your fix of NCAA Championship action in 4K, Dish TV will be airing up to 13 of the tournament games in the ultra high-def format, starting on Tuesday.
Movies & TV

Stranger Things season 3 teaser proclaims it's almost feeding time in Hawkins

With a sophomore season as strong as its first, Stranger Things is now moving on to season 3. Here's everything we've learned so far about the Netflix series' upcoming third season, premiering in July 2019.
Movies & TV

Disney completes its $71.3 billion purchase of 21st Century Fox

Now that Walt Disney Company has closed its $71.3 billion purchase of 21st Century Fox's movie and television assets, what does this future hold for franchises like X-Men, the Fantastic Four, The Simpsons, and the rest?
Home Theater

What’s new on Netflix and what movies and shows are leaving in April 2019

Our complete list of what's new on Netflix for April 2019 and which titles will be removed will help you catch up on your bingeing, and also ensure you don't miss any titles heading into the streaming ether.
Home Theater

Pandora now lets you mess with the secret sauce for its music playlists

Pandora introduced a new feature called Modes, allowing subscribers to pick between six different algorithms that determine what the popular music streaming service will decide to play.
Movies & TV

Study up for season 8 with the best Game of Thrones theories

Season 8 of Game of Thrones is still on the horizon, meaning there's still time to brush up on the best theories about the show. Whether you're one of the last adherents of the Cleganebowl or a King Aerys truther, here are our top theories.
Home Theater

The best Dolby Atmos movies for your home theater sound as good as they look

If you've got your hands on some sweet Dolby Atmos gear, the next step is to find films that take advantage of it. These are our picks in several genres for the best Dolby Atmos movies currently available on Blu-ray and streaming services.
Computing

Great PC speakers don't need to break the bank. These are our favorites

Not sure which PC speakers work best with your computer? Here are the best computer speakers on the market, whether you're working with a tight budget or looking to rattle your workstation with top-of-the-line audio components.