Google Backs FCC Proposal For New Set-Top Box Rules

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler Wednesday outlined a proposal that would pave the way for consumers to more easily watch television programs on tablets, smart TVs and other devices.

"Consumers should be able to choose how they access ... video services to which they subscribe," an FCC fact sheet issued Wednesday states.

Currently, cable and satellite providers can require consumers to lease company-provided set-top boxes -- at a cost of $20 billion annually -- in order to access TV programs. Those boxes not only are costly, but they also "don't interface well with the wealth of video content online," Wheeler writes Wednesday in an op-ed.

"To receive streaming Internet video, it is necessary to have a smart TV, or to watch it on a tablet or laptop computer that, similarly, do not have access to the channels and content that pay-TV subscribers pay for. The result is multiple devices and controllers, constrained program choice and higher costs," he writes.

To change that situation, Wheeler is proposing "a framework for providing innovators, device manufacturers and app developers the information they need to develop new technologies."

Google is among the most prominent supporters of the rule change, which it says will make it easier for consumers to access pay TV programs and over-the-top video from a single navigation device.

The company points to its own set-top boxes, developed for its fiber service, as an example of the kind of equipment that could become common, if the rule change goes through. "Unlike most set-top equipment, the Google Fiber devices and interfaces allow subscribers easily to switch between Google Fiber’s linear programming channels and online video options like VUDU, YouTube, and a Netflix account," the company said in an October filing with the FCC. "The Commission should 8 commence a rulemaking to ensure that all consumers enjoy these sorts of options."

Advocacy group Public Knowledge, which supports the proposal, says the rule change would enable devices like Apple TV, Roku and smartphones to "display cable content directly."

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association is opposing the proposal, arguing that cable companies already offer apps that let people stream programs to tablets, smartphones and devices like Roku.

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