Public Interest Groups Ask FCC Reversal on Set-Top Boxes
Public Interest Groups Ask FCC Reversal on Set-Top Boxes
Public Interest Groups Ask FCC Reversal on Set-Top Boxes

    Get Involved Today

    The Petition is available here.

    “PK et al., Petition for Reconsideration of Evolution Order”

    Six public interest groups asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to stop the cable industry from effectively locking consumers into low-cost, low-function set-top boxes, a move which would frustrate the Congressional intent of having a wide variety of more sophisticated devices available.

    On June 1, the FCC granted permission to set-top box manufacturer Evolution to manufacturer boxes for the next 3 years that do not use CableCard or other “common reliance” technologies on condition the boxes remain “low capability,” i.e., without capability to provide HD, PVR or internet access. Within two weeks, four major manufacturers filed for similar waivers for “limited capability” devices.

    The groups said that the flood of waiver applications shows that manufacturers and cable operators intend to flood the market with proprietary boxes tethered to each cable system to undermine the development of a common standard that would permit a market of “cable ready” TVs and consumer devices for digital cable systems to develop: “Furthermore, substantial incentive exists for such behavior as well – if cable operators can offer “low cost” devices to their consumers that can handle a broad range of cable features, they can discourage the growth of non-integrated devices and other competing means of using cable service, ultimately limiting consumer choice and allowing them to raise prices and increase lock-in.

    “The Commission’s failure to even address this potential for harm is unsupportable and should be resolved through a reconsideration of the waiver and an additional process of information and analysis concerning upgradeability.”

    In their petition for reconsideration, the groups also noted that the Commission had taken no steps to prevent cable operators from upgrading the capability of the devices through downloadable software or hardware upgrades, allowing operators to evade the “limited capability” restriction.

    Congress intended in both the 1992 Cable Act and the 1996 Telecommunications Act for consumers to have a wide range of devices from which to choose, and the waivers granted by the Commission could frustrate that goal, the groups said.

    Those filing the petition for reconsideration in the waiver for a device from Evolution Broadband were Public Knowledge, Free Press, Media Access Project, New America Foundation, Open Technology Institute and U.S. PIRG.

    In addition, Public Knowledge has filed oppositions to specific waivers from set-top box manufacturers such as Cisco and Motorola.