FCC pulls vote on contentious box plan in final minutes

FCC pulls vote on contentious box plan in final minutes
© Greg Nash

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) pulled a vote on a contentious proposal to open up the market for television set-top boxes from its agenda minutes before the start of its monthly meeting on Thursday.

The delay is a blow to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who had been pitted against the pay-television industry in a fight over the reforms.

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“We have made tremendous progress — and we share the goal of creating a more innovative and inexpensive market for these consumer devices,” said Wheeler and the agency’s other two Democratic commissioners, Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel, in a statement.

“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.”

The item now remains on “circulation,” in the parlance of the agency, meaning it is being weighed by the commissioners.

It’s the latest twist in a months-long battle over Wheeler’s plan to shake up the lucrative market for the boxes Americans use to watch live television. It comes after Rosenworcel said that she did not believe the commission had the authority to pursue a part of Wheeler’s proposal, casting doubt on whether Wheeler had the votes to get it passed.

The pay-television industry — which includes powerhouses such as Comcast and DirecTV — mounted an offensive against the proposal earlier this year.

Initially, the plan would have required the pay-television providers to open up their data and video feeds to external manufacturers who wanted to make their own boxes. The plan drew its share of supporters, including President Obama and public interest groups that work on consumer issues.

Facing a pressure campaign from the industry and its allies in Congress, however, Wheeler adopted a new approach that would require television providers to create applications for devices like smart televisions and tablets. But the industry still found fault in the way the commission would have had oversight of the licenses governing their relationship with device manufacturers.

An industry trade association said they were pleased with the FCC’s move on Thursday.

“We are pleased that the FCC has chosen to delay consideration of its set-top box item,” said the National Cable and Television Association in a statement, “and hope that additional time will lead to meaningful public review and comment on any newly-crafted proposal under consideration.”

Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyHillicon Valley: House panel advances election security bill | GOP senator targets YouTube with bill on child exploitation | Hicks told Congress Trump camp felt 'relief' after release of Clinton docs | Commerce blacklists five Chinese tech groups Senate Democrats press regulators over reported tech investigations Hillicon Valley: Senate sets hearing on Facebook's cryptocurrency plans | FTC reportedly investigating YouTube over children's privacy | GOP senator riles tech with bill targeting liability shield | FAA pushed to approve drone deliveries MORE (D-Mass.), a vocal advocate for the reforms, said he was frustrated by the delay.

"Today’s vote delay is an unequivocal loss for the tens of millions of Americans across the country who are forced to spend their hard-earned money on overpriced set-top box leases that cost them hundreds of dollars a year," he said. "I am extremely disappointed that the majority of the FCC Commissioners have not yet come to an agreement to provide relief for consumers for these bloated set-top box rental fees and certainty to companies who wish to innovate with new products."