Public Knowledge takes down Powell set-top demo, says it 'allows only cable-approved apps'

Non-profit public interest group Public Knowledge has sharply condemned a D.C. demonstration conducted Wednesday by NCTA chief Michael Powell and other opponents of the FCC's proposal to rewrite pay-TV set-top box legislation. 

Presenting on behalf of the Future of TV Coalition, a broad collection of top-TV operators and lobbying orgs including the National Cable Telecommunications Association, Powell demonstrated the group's belief that TV Everywhere apps are already opening up the pay-TV eco-system to third-party device makers including Apple, Google, Roku, or any other company making a mobile or OTT gadget.

"The apps-based approach endorsed by Big Cable and Big Hollywood allows only one 'competitive' option: cable-approved apps," said Kate Forscey, government affairs associate counsel at Public Knowledge, in a statement. "That avenue only further consolidates cable's current stranglehold over consumers. The end result of an apps-based proposal means cable companies maintain control over the 99 percent of consumers who still rent their boxes, without a competitive alternative market for devices, while at the same time extending their grip further to the innovative new technologies best poised to threaten that grip."

Forscey quoted data assembled by Congressional backers of the FCC proposal — that operators take in as much as $20 billion a year in revenue from leasing proprietary, closed set-tops to customers.

She said Powell's demo actually proves how easy it is to open the pay-TV set-top to third-party companies.

"There is no functional difference between an 'app' on a cell phone and an 'app' on an independent set-top box that relieves you of the obligation to rent," Forscey said. "The real issue is simple: finally giving consumers the broadest array of choices, and lower prices, from a vibrant, competitive video marketplace."

For more:
- read this Public Knowledge statement

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