In a development that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler described as welcome news, a coalition of multichannel video program distributors (MVPDs) and cable networks led by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) presented an alternative to the FCC’s proposed MVPD set-top box rules that would eliminate set-top boxes altogether in favor of an industry commitment to “develop and deploy video ‘apps’ that all large MVPDs would build to open HTML.5 web standards.” Members of the NCTA coalition include Comcast, AT&T-DirecTV and network groups Revolt TV, TV One and Vme TV. Unveiled in FCC documents that were filed last Friday and that describe a series of meetings between coalition representatives and FCC officials, the industry’s “ditch the box” solution stands in contrast to the FCC’s “unlock the box” plan, which seeks to spur competition in the MVPD device market by enabling third parties to access content and programming that is locked into cable set-top boxes by MVPDs and integrate that content into their own navigation devices.
While supporters of the FCC’s proceeding contend that open set-top box standards (once adopted) will promote competition while reducing or eliminating monthly set-top box rental fees paid by MVPD subscribers, MVPDs and other opponents believe the proposed rules will expose program copyrights to infringement and put consumer privacy at risk. As stated in FCC documents filed by the coalition, the industry’s “ditch the box” plan would satisfy the concerns and needs of all stakeholders because it would (1) allow any manufacturer “to offer innovative retail devices that can access and search MVPD services along with online content,” (2) enable consumers to “receive their MVPD service via an open standards-based downloadable app” instead of through a set-top box, (3) respect licensing and copyright terms, (4) keep content secure, and (5) preserve “full privacy and other consumer protections.” Coalition members also told the FCC that their plan would impose “binding, enforceable obligations” on industry players to “develop and deploy” open standard web applications that would benefit consumers, content owners and MVPDs.
During a speech Monday at the National Press Club, Wheeler declared it “absolutely terrific that the cable industry came forward with this proposal.” While Wheeler affirmed his interest in “engaging in constructive dialogue with the industry,” he cautioned: “There have been multiple times in the past… where the industry has said they would do similar kinds of things and it never came to pass.” As Wheeler called on MVPDs to “make it [come] to pass now,” FCC Press Secretary Kim Hart told reporters: “We look forward to seeing additional details so we can determine whether their proposal fully meets all of the goals of our proceeding.”