Pai Won't Force Cable Companies To Replace Set-Top Boxes With Apps

Last week, House Republicans asked Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to scuttle his predecessor's proposal to pass new rules that would have allowed consumers to replace costly set-top boxes with apps.

This week, Pai took a step toward doing so by removing the proposal from circulation.

Former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler tweeted his disapproval of Pai's move. "Removing set-top box rule victory for Cablewood over consumers," Wheeler posted. "Trump helping little guy??"

The proposal, put forward by former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler last September, would have required cable and satellite providers to make television programs available to subscribers via apps. The agency canceled a planned vote on the plan after former Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel raised questions about it.



That September plan was weaker than Wheeler's initial proposal, which would have enabled Google, Amazon and other companies to develop set-top boxes capable of accessing pay-TV programs.

Consumer advocates supported both of the proposals, which could potentially have saved cable subscribers $231 a year on set-top-box rental fees. But cable companies, telecoms, the entertainment industry and the Association of National Advertisers lobbied relentlessly against the plans.

The ANA said it was concerned that the proposal could enable copyright infringement -- though, obviously, plenty of TV shows and movies are already pirated. The ad group also expressed concerns over a provision in the plan that would require apps to offer an integrated search function, allowing consumers to search for programs across a variety of platforms. That proposed requirement sparked the concern that licensed and pirated content might appear side-by-side in the search results.

Even though Pai removed the item from circulation, he left open the possibility that the FCC will still consider some form of set-top box reform. "This is one of the 23 items that we are reviewing," he said after the FCC's open meeting today, according to The Hollywood Reporter. "We are still making a determination as to the appropriate steps forward."

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