FCC’s Pai won’t close set-top box proceeding, wants to address CabIeCARD reporting requirement

Comcast Xfinity X1 set top box
Comcast continues to sell its X1 set-top box.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he won’t close the agency’s investigation into the cable industry’s set-top box practices, mainly due to his interest in potentially eliminating the industry’s CabIeCARD reporting requirements.

However, Pai made clear his attitude toward the overall set-top box proceeding, which was launched by Pai’s predecessor, former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, under the “unlock the box” moniker. Wheeler had wanted to force cable companies to allow other third-party providers like Google to offer services through their set-top boxes.

“As Chairman, I share your goal of promoting a clear, consumer-focused, fair, and competitive regulatory path for video programming delivery,” Pai wrote in response to a group of Republican House members who asked the FCC about the issue. “Because I do not believe that the set-top box Order circulated by my immediate predecessor furthered this goal, I have removed it from circulation. As such, it is no longer pending before the Commission, and I do not intend to resurrect it.”

Pai’s statements on set-top boxes, and his ongoing interest in CabIeCARD reporting requirements, were contained in letters he wrote to 19 House Republicans. They had asked Pai to strike down Wheeler’s pay-TV set-top proposal. “We are writing to ask that you close the docket on the set-top box proceeding … and signal clearly to consumers, content producers, consumer electronics manufacturers and video programming distributors that the Commission’s consideration of its set-top proposal is at an end,” read a letter (PDF) sent in January and penned by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore.

RELATED: Congressional Republicans tell Pai to officially kill Wheeler’s set-top proposal

In Pai’s response, released late last week, he agreed that the agency should close inactive proceedings. “At this time, however, I believe that it would be premature to close this docket,” he wrote. “In this proceeding's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the Commission teed up certain issues that were not related to my predecessor's flawed set-top box scheme. In particular, the FCC sought comment on eliminating the current CabIeCARD reporting requirement, and I do not want to impede our ability to take appropriate action with respect to this regulation in an efficient manner by immediately closing this docket.”

As Broadcasting & Cable pointed out, the FCC launched its CabIeCARD reporting requirements in 2005 with the ultimate goal of creating a retail market for set-top boxes that was separate from set-top boxes supplied by cable operators. However, the FCC’s CabIeCARD effort never got much traction, a situation the agency has previously acknowledged.

Late last year, Wheeler tabled his highly controversial proposal to open the leased pay-TV set-top business to third-party technology companies. The proposal, which in its final iteration had pay-TV operators rendering their services through apps that could be used on a wide range of third-party devices, was dealt a fatal blow on Nov. 8, when Republicans secured the presidency and both houses of Congress, thus leading to the departure of Democrat Wheeler.

Pai, for his part, has been a staunch opponent of the set-top proposal from the beginning.