Will the FCC Agree to ‘Ditch the Box’?

Right now there is much ado in the cable industry about set-top boxes, with many leaders calling for regulatory changes. Change does appear to be coming soon, but what it will entail is still up for debate.

Here’s an overview of where we currently stand:

In February, the Federal Communications Commission attempted to create new rules around the set-top devices that bring cable television into homes. The plan—called “unlock the box”—would allow cable customers to use their set-top boxes to access third-party content (meaning content from a company other than their cable provider).

The plan followed a study from Congress which showed that the average American pays about $231 per year on box rental fees. Many people feel this amount is too expensive, and that set-top boxes are too restrictive. Those in favor of unlocking the box feel that cable companies have a stranglehold on the way that content is delivered to consumers. The FCC believes the plan would help consumers by providing more options while also spurring competition in the cable industry.

Cable operators, content providers and industry groups, however, feel otherwise.

One such group is the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), which is calling for a compromise that would abandon set-top boxes entirely. So in June, the NCTA proposed an alternate plan called “ditch the box.” The plan would require large pay-TV operators to make their services available on applications built on HTML5 standards. This plan, the NCTA believes, would allow consumers to access TV services over a greater number of devices.

The NCTA also wants a shorter time frame than the FCC’s unlock the box plan, which the FCC believes will take several years. The NCTA wants the project to be under way within two years.

One person that appears to be interested in the NCTA’s compromise is FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. According to FierceOnlineVideo, Wheeler told attendees at a recent House Energy and Commerce Committee meeting that he is “heartened” about the industry’s willingness to come to a compromise about unlocking the box.

“Everyone can agree that consumers should be empowered to watch TV how they want, with the device, app, or interface that they choose,” Wheeler stated.

So whether the FCC decides to unlock the box or ditch it altogether, one thing is clear: Big changes are coming down the pike at some point, as power continues to shift into the hands of television consumers who want greater flexibility and value from their cable services.

It’s therefore a good time to start looking ahead and forming different plans so that your business can hit the ground running with a strategic offering once the FCC makes its final decision.

We want to know: How does your company feel about set-top boxes?