Cable box proposal: FCC delays vote, get ready for round 2!

20160915_cableboxfees_fbThe Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has delayed a vote on a plan that would have allowed a lot of consumers to avoid paying set-top box rental fees to pay-TV companies.

In the last few weeks, more than 4,000 CUB Action Network members signed our petition in favor of the plan. But we knew this was going to be a tough fight–and we’ll keep pushing for a new vote.

On Thursday, FCC commissioners said they could not agree on a proposal that requires cable operators to provide their shows and movies on alternative devices (smart TV, streaming media player, tablet, etc.) rather than just on a cable box. The proposal was intended to free  consumers from an average of $231 a year in box rental fees. Across the country, that amounts to $20 annually.

The plan is expected to be voted on in the future, but FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the commissioners need to continue discussions.  “It was simply a matter of running out of time,” he said.

One commissioner, Jessica Rosenworcel, has said she was concerned over potential copyright violations faced by television programmers. She said the agency might not have the legal authority to act as a watchdog over program licensing agreements.

But Commissioner Rosenworcel also said she was hoping a proposal could move forward.

“We are still working to resolve the remaining technical and legal issues and we are committed to unlocking the set-top box for consumers across this country,” three commissioners, including Rosenworcel and Wheeler, said in a statement.

Under the proposal, consumers would be able to watch cable shows on devices like a Roku or Apple TV, or on internet-enabled TVs. Getting rid of the box would make watching YouTube and Netflix videos as easy as viewing cable programs. (Those streaming services would be presented in what would look like just another app.)

Of course, the cable and television industries launched a campaign against the plan. The New York Times reported that those industries spent more than $10 million in the last quarter and hired dozens of lobbyists to protest the proposal.

Remember, this fight isn’t over! CUB Action Network members, stay tuned for more opportunities to join the battle.

For more on this, read these stories from….

The Washington Post.

CNN (includes a great video explaining the FCC proposal).

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About Jim Chilsen

Jim is director of communications for the Citizens Utility Board (CUB)
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