FCC Proposes Closing Lid on Set-Top Box Proceeding

Had once been a hot-button item generating voluminous debate

FCC chairman Ajit Pai is proposing to close the book on a cold proceeding that was once red hot: New regs on the navigation device market meant to spur over-the-top video competition to cable.

On Aug. 14, Pai circulated an item entitled “Expanding Consumers’ Video Navigation Choices; Commercial Availability of Navigation Devices,” which was a blast from the past.

But since Pai was a strong opponent of new cable set-top regs–proposed under his predecessor, Tom Wheeler–it was likely not a revival of the issue for further consideration. It isn’t.

An FCC spokesperson confirmed that, instead, it is officially closing the still-open proceeding, and with an exclamation point. “This item would terminate the proceeding in which the prior Commission proposed imposing complex and unnecessary regulations on the navigation device market that generated bipartisan opposition within and outside the agency, and serious concerns from a wide range of stakeholders and experts, including the U.S. Copyright Office,” they said.

Wheeler’s proposed rules would have required pay TV providers to offer consumers a free app, controlled by the MVPD, to access all the programming they pay for on a variety of devices, including tablets, smartphones, gaming systems, streaming devices or smart TVs. That, in turn, would make it easier for consumers not to have to rent boxes from their provider.

Pay-TV providers are also would have been required to provide their apps to widely deployed platforms, such as Roku, iOS, Windows and Android.

The rules would also call on MVPDs to support integrated search for linear and VOD, alongside other video services accessible on the device, such as OTT offerings. Pay-TV providers would also have been barred from discriminating in search results or promoting the pay-TV app over other sources of programming in the search function.

Cable ops pushed back hard on the new regs and Wheeler could never lock down the three votes he needed before the election, and Pai, who opposed the regs, replaced him.

It got so far as being scheduled for a vote but was pulled from a September 2016 public meeting agenda at the last minute. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel supported providing more choice and lower-cost options for navigation devices, but had issues with the proposal to have the FCC backstop app licensing agreements, and reached out to programmers to clarify their problems with the item. Programmers said they still had many.

The FCC must still vote to close the docket, but Pai almost certainly has the two other Republican votes to do so.