FCC's Wheeler may bow to pressure, could change 'Unlock the Box' set-top proposal

There appear to be growing cracks in FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's "Unlock the Box" proposal, such that he may consider changes to the effort following growing support for the alternative "Ditch the Box" effort backed by AT&T (NYSE: T), Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) and others.

Bloomberg reported that the FCC is currently considering changes to the "Unlock the Box" proposal Wheeler laid out earlier this year. "Chairman Wheeler has repeatedly said he is interested in a constructive dialogue," FCC spokeswoman Kim Hart told Bloomberg yesterday. "He welcomes the feedback to his proposal to give consumers new options for accessing the content they pay for, and he looks forward to engaging in continued conversations to inform the final rules."

Wheeler's controversial pay-TV set-top NPRM was adopted in February on a 3-2 party vote, but recent concerns raised by Wheeler's fellow Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and others, coupled with an alternative proposal that drew supportive comments from Google, appear to be weakening support for Wheeler's "Unlock the Box" push.

"It has become clear the original proposal has real flaws … We need to find another way forward. So I'm glad that efforts are underway to hash out alternatives," Rosenworcel told Reuters earlier this week.

And Rosenworcel isn't alone. Other prominent lawmakers, including Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, have also voiced concerns over Wheeler's push.

Rosenworcel's comments came just a week after a broad coalition of pay-TV operators and programmers pitched the FCC with an open, apps-based alternative to the agencies set-top proposal they dubbed "Ditch the Box." The scheme would require major pay-TV operators to enable their services through apps based on open HTML5 standards, allowing customers to access their TV service through a range of third-party devices. 

Wheeler's initial "Unlock the Box" plan aimed to enable third-party devices to enter into the pay-TV ecosystem. 

Earlier this week, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) added its voice to the chorus moving away from unified support for Wheeler's proposal. Google, which for years has complained of the cable industry's set-top box market, said that the Future of TV's "Ditch the Box" proposal looks like a step in the right direction.

"The proposal by some programmers and pay-TV providers is a constructive effort towards the goal of more competition and consumer choice, and we hope that it sparks a dialogue between the FCC and interested parties to reach a good outcome for American viewers," Google said in a statement to Politico.

It's unclear what Wheeler's next steps might be, though it's clear the pay-TV industry's "Ditch the Box" appears to be gaining momentum.

For more:
- see this Bloomberg article

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