Minutes before its scheduled vote yesterday on rules that would effectively replace cable set-top boxes with an apps-based solution allowing subscribers to access multichannel video program distributor (MVPD) programming on the devices of their choice, the FCC removed the order from the meeting agenda, announcing that the proposal “will go on the Commission’s circulation list and remain under consideration by the commissioners.”
Two weeks ago, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler circulated a draft order among his fellow commissioners implementing the apps-based approach, which was offered by MVPDs as an alternative to the FCC’s previous plan to open set-top box information streams to third-party device makers. MVPDs, however, have since taken issue with provisions of the draft order that would establish a standard industry license overseen by the FCC and through which video apps would be distributed. While the FCC declined comment on events leading to the postponement, Wheeler was reported to lack sufficient votes to win a majority, with Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel serving as a standout. In testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee last week, Rosenworcel—a Democrat—told lawmakers that she had “some problems” with the FCC “getting too involved in the licensing scheme.” Both FCC Republicans, Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly, are expected to vote against the item.
Declaring, “we have made tremendous progress,” Wheeler, Rosenworcel and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn proclaimed in a joint statement that “we are still working to resolve the remaining technical and legal issues and we are committed to unlocking the set-top box for consumers across this country.” As he highlighted the cable industry’s commitment “to a future where viewers have the freedom to watch their favorite shows on a wide variety of . . . connected devices,” a spokesman for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association said, “we are pleased that the FCC has chosen to delay consideration of its set-top box item, and hope that additional time will lead to meaningful public review and comment on any newly-crafted proposal.”