Wheeler ready to move forward with pay-TV’s app-based counter proposal on set-tops


FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is reportedly set to move forward with the essential components of the pay-TV’s apps-based counter proposal to his “Unlock the Box” set-top NPRM.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Wheeler wants to establish a new office within the FCC to hash out disputes between pay-TV operators, programmers and third-party device makers. This concept was outlined in an ex parte filing by the National Cable Telecommunications Commission, released yesterday. 

“We discussed the new concept of a central licensing body that would establish and enforce a single license for MVPD apps,” NCTA said. “Under this approach, the commission would play a role in defining the terms of the license and overseeing the work of the licensing body, including seeking public comment on the license developed by the licensing body. The licensing body would be responsible for issuing the license to qualifying device manufacturers and enforcing the terms of the license, and handling device testing and certification.”

In February, the FCC’s Media Bureau voted 3-2 on partisan lines to approve Wheeler’s “Unlock the Box” proposal, which would require pay-TV operators to provide their video and information streams to makers of third-party set-top devices, such as Google and TiVo. 

Wheeler was embarking on another regulatory quest to break up the leased pay-TV set-top business, letting consumers use their own devices purchased at retail instead of paying several hundred dollars a year to lease a set-top from their cable or satellite provider. 

However, strident resistance from not only pay-TV operators, but programmers and Congressional lawmakers, put pressure on Wheeler to walk the NPRM back. When Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel pulled her support for Unlock the Box last spring, the proposal was essentially DOA.

But Wheeler is reportedly willing to make the pay-TV industry’s “Ditch the Box” counter-proposal, or at least the major thesis of it, the law of the land. The proposal calls on MVPDs to make their programming available to third-party devices via HTML5-based multiscreen apps, much like Comcast is already doing with its “Partners Program.”

“MVPDs would make the HTML5 app licensing process as frictionless as possible for device manufacturers,” NCTA said. “Each MVPD would offer a standard license on commercially reasonable terms. This would be a simple process for device manufacturers. And because only seven or eight MVPDs would be involved, accepting seven or eight additional licenses would not be onerous for device platforms that may already support hundreds or thousands of apps.”

For more:
- read this Wall Street Journal story

Related articles:
U.S. Copyright Office questions FCC’s set-top plan
Court upholds TWC victory in leased set-top class-action suit
Fox and CBS ex parte filings hint that the FCC is going to make major compromises to ‘Unlock the Box’