Cable companies are circling the wagons against a proposal for new set-top box rules that would enable consumers to more easily watch TV on smartphones, tablets and other devices.
"The proposal, like prior federal government technology mandates, would impose costs on consumers, adversely impact the creation of high-quality content, and chill innovation," Comcast Senior Vice President Mark Hess says today in a blog post. "It also flies in the face of the rapid changes that are occurring in the marketplace and benefitting consumers."
Hess's post comes in response to a proposal unveiled yesterday by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, who said he wants the agency to create new, uniform standards for set-top boxes. Doing so would enable companies other than cable providers to enter the set-top box market. Once that happens, consumers would no longer have to pay lease boxes from their cable providers; currently, the cable industry garners around $20 billion annually in those rental fees.
Consumer groups like Public Knowledge back Wheeler's proposal, as does Google. Proponents say that the proposal could increase competition while also making it easier for consumers to access all content -- pay-TV as well as online video -- from the same navigation device. In addition, the proposal would make it simpler for consumers to watch pay TV on a host of different devices.
But Comcast's Hess writes that the proposal marks "a major step backward for consumers and video innovation."
He argues that the FCC's proposed changes aren't necessary because consumers can already stream programs to tablets and smartphones via the company's "wildly popular" apps.
"Like other traditional TV distributors, online video distributors, networks, and sports leagues, Comcast is using apps to deliver its Xfinity service to popular customer-owned retail devices," he writes. "These apps are wildly popular with consumers... This apps revolution is rapidly proliferating, and we are working with others in the industry and standards-setting bodies to expand apps to reach even more devices."
The industry group National Cable & Telecommunications Association adds that the FCC is seeking "to do Big Tech's bidding" with the proposal.
"By forcing new government mandates on network providers and content creators, the FCC may intend to reward Google handsomely, but in the process it will ignore contractual freedoms, weaken content diversity and security, undermine important consumer protections like privacy, and stall the creative and technical innovation that is driving positive changes in today’s TV marketplace," the NCTA says.
The NCTA, along with pay-TV providers including AT&T, Cablevision and Time Warner have formed a new organization, The Future of TV, to rally opposition to the proposal. The group -- which is asking people to petition against the rule change -- says the market is already "brimming with innovation and consumer options."
The Future of TV adds that "app-based services like Amazon and Netflix, dedicated streaming devices like Roku and Apple TV, and standalone apps from networks such as CBS and HBO and major sports leagues" prove the current system is working.
The FCC is expected to vote in February about whether to move forward with Wheeler's proposal.