Make us your home page

Cable companies: The FCC may force us to make your life more difficult

Federal regulators launched an effort this week to give consumers more choice in the kinds of set-top boxes that provide them cable programming, a move that could reshape the way millions of Americans experience their television service.

But the cable industry has warned regulators that it will have little choice but to keep requiring monthly set-top box rentals if the federal government moves ahead with its proposal.

As a result, households that want to ditch their set-top boxes could wind up with even more of them, industry officials say. Instead of buying a third-party cable box to replace the one they rent from their TV provider, consumers could be forced to manage multiple devices, various companies have told regulators in meetings and in a regulatory filing.

The gloomy forecasts are aimed at deflating efforts by the Federal Communications Commission to allow outside companies, such as those from the tech industry, to build their own competing cable boxes and apps. Industry officials are attempting to convince the FCC that its actions will create new costs for cable companies — costs they will not hesitate to pass along to the consumer.

"Consumers will end up paying," executives from the industry told the agency in a filing last week. They added that "someone will need to develop and pay for new technologies and specifications" that meet the FCC's requirements.

Regulators haven't laid out a specific road map for the industry; rather, the plan is to bring cable companies, tech companies, consumer groups and others together in a bid to work out a mutually agreeable standard that would allow new cable boxes to interact with cable content.

Among other objections, cable companies worry that whatever solution the group comes up with — if it finds one — will require substantial changes to their networks.

It would be costly to upgrade individual cable companies' technology to "somehow work with every potential third party that wants access," according to an industry official the Washington Post said asked not to be identified in order to discuss corporate strategies.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler dismissed those concerns, saying his agency's proposal does not explicitly require a "multibillion-dollar re-engineering of cable systems."

"It is not forcing cable operators to change the way they do business," he later told reporters, adding that the standards process will ensure cable companies will not face steep new costs.

The agency voted 3-2 to move forward with the proposal, with its Democratic commissioners voting in favor and Republicans voting against.

At the moment, it is essentially Wheeler's prediction against the industry's, because the standard-setting process has yet to take place and could occur over a number of years. But Wheeler's proposed plan creates financial incentives that would drive cable companies to hurt consumers, industry execs argued to the FCC.

"Each and every company has told me that it would be less expensive to deploy additional boxes in their customers' homes" than to re-engineer their networks, said Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai. "So if the commission's proposal is implemented, the American people will probably end up paying for more boxes, not fewer."

In this scenario, consumers would be unable to take advantage of a cable box built by a third party unless they first connected that box to the proprietary cable box supplied by the TV company.

Cable companies: The FCC may force us to make your life more difficult 02/19/16 [Last modified: Friday, February 19, 2016 8:30pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Washington Post.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Pinellas licensing board asks Sen. Jack Latvala for $500,000 loan

    Local Government

    The troubled Pinellas County agency that regulates contractors wants Sen. Jack Latvala to help it get a $500,000 lifeline from the state to stay afloat.

    State Sen . Jack Latvala, R- Clearwater, is being asked to help the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board get $500,000 from the state so it can stay open beyond February.  [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  2. In advertising, marketing diversity needs a boost in Tampa Bay, nationally


    TAMPA — Trimeka Benjamin was focused on a career in broadcast journalism when she entered Bethune-Cookman University.

    From left, Swim Digital marketing owner Trimeka Benjamin discusses the broad lack of diversity in advertising and marketing with 22 Squared copywriter Luke Sokolewicz, University of Tampa advertising/PR professor Jennifer Whelihan, Rumbo creative director George Zwierko and Nancy Vaughn of the White Book Agency. The group recently met at The Bunker in Ybor City.
  3. Tampa Club president seeks assessment fee from members


    TAMPA — The president of the Tampa Club said he asked members last month to pay an additional assessment fee to provide "additional revenue." However, Ron Licata said Friday that the downtown business group is not in a dire financial situation.

    Ron Licata, president of the Tampa Club in downtown Tampa. [Tampa Club]
  4. Under Republican health care bill, Florida must make up $7.5 billion


    If a Senate bill called the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 becomes law, Florida's government would need to make up about $7.5 billion to maintain its current health care system. The bill, which is one of the Republican Party's long-promised answers to the Affordable Care Act imposes a cap on funding per enrollee …

    Florida would need to cover $7.5 billion to keep its health care program under the Republican-proposed Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.  [Times file photo]
  5. Amid U.S. real estate buying binge by foreign investors, Florida remains first choice

    Real Estate

    Foreign investment in U.S. residential real estate recently skyrocketed to a new high with nearly half of all foreign sales happening in Florida, California and Texas.

    A National Association of Realtors annual survey found record volume and activity by foreign buyers of U.S. real estate. Florida had the highest foreign investment activity, followed by California and Texas. [National Association of Realtors]