The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should scrap its rules for approving set-top boxes, and should instead implement a new system that would help consumers by encouraging new investment and innovation, five public interest groups told the Commission.
In the 1996 Telecommunications Act, Congress wanted to create a competitive market for open set-top boxes that consumers could purchase as they buy any piece of consumer electronics. However, due to the way the Commission implemented the rules over the years, that market has not developed, the groups said. “There is no meaningful competition” for set-top boxes, and innovation has been frustrated, according to the groups.
The groups asked the FCC to start a formal rulemaking process that would create a new, open, standard so that consumers could have the benefit of newer set-top boxes with more functions. They also asked the FCC to freeze requests for waivers from the existing rules and to consolidate all the various proceedings related to set-top boxes into one.
Although the FCC has started a preliminary examination of the set-top box market, the groups said, “This inquiry is an important first step toward fulfilling the statutory mandate that the Commission promote a competitive market in video devices—but much more needs to be done.”
“The current FCC rules have left consumers with few good choices, have frustrated would-be competitors and have left a market that could be full of potential innovations in the hands of the cable industry,” said Harold Feld, legal director of Public Knowledge. “Our approach is that the Commission should stop what its doing, start over, and create something useful. The FCC acknowledges that the current rules are not working, and our proposal would help them achieve what Congress intended.”
In addition to Public Knowledge, the groups filing the petition for rulemaking with the FCC are Free Press, Media Access Project, CCTV Center for Media and Democracy and the Open Technology Initiative of the New America Foundation and Consumers Union.
The full text of the petition is here
Ken Fellman, President of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) indicated NATOA's support for the FCC moving toward a consumer-friendly, comprehensive resolution of the set-top box dilemma.
Fellman said, “NATOA speaks for local government officials who are on the front-lines of video consumer protection. Our members know first-hand the frustration and excessive prices consumers endure from the lack of competitive choices in cable set-top boxes and interactive devices over video service platforms. The FCC needs to take a comprehensive look at how to best to encourage multiple sources of broadband interactive services and equipment which is available from sources other than the video service platform provider.”
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