As part of a larger executive branch effort that encourages federal departments and agencies to make “further progress” on promoting competition across all market sectors, the White House urged the FCC in a blog post last Friday to “open up set-top cable boxes to competition.”

Co-authored by White House Chief Economist Jason Furman and National Economic Council Director Jeffrey Zients, the blog post serves as an apparent endorsement of FCC rulemaking proceedings that were launched in February to enable third parties to access content and programming that is currently locked into cable set-top boxes by multichannel video program distributors (MVPDs) and to integrate that content into their own navigation devices.  The blog post also coincides with the release of an executive order that directs executive branch departments and agencies to use their authority “to promote competition, arm consumers and workers with the information they need to make informed choices, and eliminate regulations that restrict competition.”  The FCC and other independent agencies that fall outside of executive branch purview are not required but are nevertheless encouraged to comply with the executive order, which asks affected agencies to (1) submit an initial list of potential actions that fulfill the White House directive within 30 days and (2) submit recommendations within 60 days on “agency specific actions that eliminate barriers to competition [and] promote greater competition.”

Asserting that FCC action to promote set-top box competition will allow companies “to create new, innovative, higher quality, lower-cost products,” Furman and Zients predicted that “American families will have options to own a device for much less money that will integrate everything they want—including their cable or satellite content as well as online streaming apps—in one, easier-to-use gadget.”  While FCC officials offered no comment, cable industry executives criticized the blog post as an attempt at White House interference in FCC affairs.  National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Michael Powell said, “we are disappointed that White House political advisors are choosing to inject politics . . . into a regulatory proceeding by what is supposed to be an independent agency.”