Senate Committee Tries To Delay Choice In Cable Set-Top Boxes, Potentially Costing Consumers at Least $1.6 Billion per Month

BY Heather Greenfield
June 16, 2016

Washington — The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a rider in a budget bill that would delay the FCC from opening the TV set-top box market to competitors. The rider would demand that the FCC further the study the issue of ensuring third parties can offer devices that are compatible with customers’ paid TV content.

Congress gave the FCC the authority to reform this market to protect consumers 20 years ago.  In late 2014, Congress ordered the FCC to convene a panel of experts to study the issue.  After that committee completed its work in August 2015, the FCC held two rounds of public comments.  After receiving much public input, the FCC voted in February to begin a rulemaking proceeding for a new framework that would allow consumers to have choices beyond renting the boxes from their cable provider. The FCC has since received input from two more rounds of public comments on the reform proposal. The Senate rider would further delay the FCC’s ability to act under decades-old authority until 2017.

Nearly 99% of the millions of pay-TV customers continually pay rental fees of about $8 a month per box even though the devices and features are behind the curve technologically and have not evolved much. For the cable industry, every month of delayed competition means they rake in about $1.6 billion from consumers, who have to pay these rental fees.

CCIA  has advocated on competition issues for more than 40 years and helped organize the Consumer Video Choice Coalition: consumervideochoice.org. It also filed comments in April and reply comments in May supporting the FCC’s plan to open the set-top box market to competitors. The following can be attributed to CCIA President & CEO Ed Black:

“For more than a decade, we’ve been talking about the lack of competition and the control the cable industry has over how consumers access TV content they’ve already purchased. Calling for yet another study is a thinly veiled attempt by the cable industry to derail the FCC’s efforts.  The issue has been studied for years, thoroughly vetted, and over the past year and a half, stakeholders have had at least 4 opportunities to comment on this issue.

“Congress has twice asked the FCC to examine this monopoly control over set top boxes to free both prices and innovation, most recently in 2014. It makes no sense to use a backdoor policy rider to delay the very reforms the full Congress asked the FCC to consider. This delay by rider would just allow the cable industry more months to gouge customers. Why would we do that?”

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