Public Knowledge, Free Press, Media Access Project, Consumers Union, CCTV, Center for Media & Democracy, and the Open Technology Initiative of New America Foundation filed a petition for rulemaking (“Petition”) in mid-December asking the Commission to initiate a rulemaking to promote competition for pay-TV set-top boxes. The petition invokes Section 629 of the Communications Act, which requires the Commission to create a competitive market for video devices.

The current set-top box regime promotes the “CableCARD” standard for separable security to be used by third-party manufacturers desiring to offer set-top boxes to consumers. However, according to the Petition, the CableCARD regime has not been sufficient to facilitate adoption of third-party manufactured and marketed devices because such devices could not access the full range of programming offered by the pay-TV provider. Under the Petition, pay-TV providers would use a “gateway device” with a common output, which could in turn be used to connect third-party manufacturers’ navigation devices. The Petition further suggests that the gateway specification should provide standards for (1) a physical connection, (2) a communication protocol, (3) authentication, (4) service discovery, and (5) content encoding.

While the Petition asks the FCC immediately to open a rulemaking, the cable industry hopes the Commission will take a more cautious approach by merely seeking further information on the state of the set-top box industry. The Commission already has taken a step towards gathering more information by including in the National Broadband Plan proceeding a Public Notice seeking comment on how to encourage innovation in the market for video devices (National Broadband Plan Public Notice # 27, DA 09-2519, rel. Dec. 3, 2009). When asked about the need for FCC action in the set-top device market at the Consumer Electronics Show in early January, Commissioner McDowell said he would “welcome” a further notice of proposed rulemaking, and Commissioner Baker agreed there could be room for improvement in promoting competition in the market.