NCTA responds to senators' set-top complaints, says consumers already have plenty of choice

The NCTA responded aggressively to comments made by two Democratic senators today, refuting their assertion that pay-TV consumers are paying too much for video set-top boxes and that more competition is needed in the set-top market.

"In today's competitive video marketplace, American consumers have a growing number of choices of video providers and ways to access video content on multiple devices in and out of the home," a statement from the National Cable Telecommunications Association reads. "Retail devices including TiVo, Roku and Apple TV have been purchased by tens of millions of consumers.  Pay-TV and content providers have embraced the mobile marketplace and offer robust apps that have been downloaded 52 million times on Apple and Android devices."

Earlier today, Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal's (D-Conn.) released a statement saying that American households are spending more than $231 per year on set-top box rental fees and that 99 percent of these consumers are renting their boxes from their pay-TV provider.

"Consumers should have the same range of choices for their video set-top boxes as they have for their mobile phones," Markey said.

The findings were made following an information request sent last November by members of the Senate's Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee to major MVPDs. That information request was made after the passage of the satellite reauthorization bill (STELAR) scrapped the CableCard and the security integration ban, which enabled consumers to access technology that allowed use of a set-top box other than one leased from their cable company. The FCC created the CableCard with the intention of creating a robust retail market for video set-tops, but it never materialized. Currently, the FCC is discussing a new downloadable security standard.

"When Congress last year regrettably removed the requirement that cable company services be compatible with set-top boxes purchased in the marketplace rather than rented directly from the provider, we doomed consumers to being captive to cable company rental fees forever," Markey added. "We also endangered a competitive set-top box marketplace, replacing consumer choice with cable company control. We need a new, national consumer-friendly standard that will allow consumers to choose their own video box irrespective from their pay-TV provider. Consumers should not be forced to rent video boxes from their pay-TV provider in perpetuity."

For its part, the NCTA noted a blog post rendered by retail set-top maker TiVo in January, which said elimination of the ban would not obliterate the market for CableCard devices.

"We expect CableCards to be supplied and supported by cable operators for many years after cable operators are no longer required to use them in their own set top boxes for several reasons," the blog post reads.

Meanwhile, the Consumer Video Choice Coalition chimed in to support Sens. Markey and Blumenthal, releasing this statement: "This study is just the latest reason why the FCC should act now to provide consumers real choice. TV consumers today are like telco consumers 40 years ago, who rented basic black phones for years and paid the cost of the phones several times over, all to the telcos' benefit. Similarly, set top box rentals today continue to significantly limit the opportunity for innovative and lower-cost device options gaining a foothold in the marketplace."

For more:
- read this press release from the senators

Special Report: Why the once-great pay-TV set-top box market is now in retreat

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