Wheeler may be losing FCC Democratic support for set-top proposal

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's controversial pay-TV set-top NPRM was adopted last February on a 3-2 party vote but now, as the final commission vote for the proposal nears, support could be waning among the Democratic commissioners for the suggested rules.

In a Reuters report suggesting that a final vote on the proposal could come as soon as August, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel seemed less confident about the original proposal.

"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.

Among the alternatives is "Ditch the Box," a new proposal from a group of pay-TV companies that suggested requiring pay-TV operators to have open, HTML5-based apps that can run on third-party streaming devices.

"Advocates for the FCC's 'Unlock the Box' proposal have argued that monthly box rental fees are too high, that open standards are needed to create more competition in the market for video devices, and that these new devices should be allowed to integrate both pay-TV and streaming content in the same search interface," said the Future of TV Coalition, the group of pay-TV operators standing in opposition to the FCC's NPRM.

"This alternative proposal allows customers to ditch their box altogether, utilizes the open HTML5 standard and will let devices search for content from both pay-TV apps and other licensed video apps through the device's search menu," Future of TV Coalition added.

Proposed alternatives aside, critics of the proposed rules have pointed out that TVEverywhere apps from major pay-TV providers that run on third-party devices like Roku and Apple TV have essentially already provided the open hardware ecosystem the proposal is seeking.

Opponents have also expressed concerns that the rules could allow companies like Google to insert its own ads or content on top of pay-TV content.

Meanwhile, Republican FCC Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly have remained steadfast in their opposition to the rules. When the NPRM originally passed, Pai called it a "20th Century solution to a 21st Century problem," and at the INTX show last month, O'Rielly said he would like to "take the current proposal and throw it in the garbage. That's where it belongs."

At the same INTX event, both Pai and O'Rielly seemed confident that the current proposal would be the one voted on by the FCC and indicated that Wheeler was not open to discussion on modifications or alternatives.

For more:
- read this Reuters story

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