Industry groups propose alternative to FCC box plan

Industry groups propose alternative to FCC box plan
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An industry coalition on Thursday proposed what it calls an alternative to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler’s plan to open up the market for television set-top boxes.

Major pay television providers DirecTV and Comcast and cable trade group NCTA, along with minority programmers, said major providers could be legally obligated to build applications to allow customers to access their content. The proposed framework would not necessarily apply to smaller companies offering pay-TV services.

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The applications would be accessible on smart televisions as well as other devices. Users could search for content belonging to both their television provider and streaming services like Netflix.

In a meeting with agency officials, representatives of the organizations behind the plan said they could use the HTML5 standard to build out the applications.

The FCC proposal would use a universal standard, as of yet undetermined, for anyone hoping to make a set-top box.

Absent from the meeting was the Motion Picture Association of America, which is a member of a broader business coalition opposed to the plan. Other content creators that are part of the coalition, as well as Dish, did not take part in the meeting.

"The new applications-based proposal presented today is a constructive step, and we appreciate the MVPDs' thoughtful effort,” the group’s spokesperson said in a statement.

“We will continue conversations with the FCC and others as we evaluate how well this and other proposals respect programmers’ rights, particularly their rights to determine whether and how to disseminate their programming and how best to secure it."

But the industry proposal lacks the core element of Wheeler’s plan: Non-television providers would not be able to build applications or their own hardware to let customers access their television provider’s content.

Under Wheeler’s proposal, the television providers like Comcast or Dish would have to open up their video feeds for use by anyone who wanted to build their own box or application to access the content.

Providers have said the proposal would hurt copyright protections for content creators and strike a blow to minority programmers.

“Chairman Wheeler is heartened that the industry has adopted the primary goal of our proposal, to promote greater competition and choice for consumers, and agree it is achievable,” an FCC official said in an email. “We all agree that third-party access to pay-tv content, integrated search and the protection of copyright, content security, consumer privacy and minority programmers are critical. There is a lot more work to do.

“We look forward to seeing additional details so we can determine whether their proposal fully meets all of the goals of our proceeding and the statute,” she added.