FCC Set-Top Box NPRM Is Notice Of Preposterous Rule Making

Thursday, Apr 21, 2016

The FCC has recently requested comments on its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) titled, “Expanding Consumers’ Video Navigation Choices; Commercial Availability of Navigation Devices,” which is focused on changing the current set-top-box (STB) regimen in the U.S. This NPRM has the potential to introduce additional regulatory burden on a sector which is largely solving the problems that the FCC is attempting to address.

The NPRM supports the requirement of cable and pay-TV operators to adopt open-source platforms which would allow consumers to attach any device or after-market box to their cable plan and receive content. This approach could stifle innovation, add costs to consumers, add costs to the network providers, reduce carrier competition, and ultimately limit choice. While the concept of consumers having choice in their STB is a noble one, technology evolutions are already making these devices obsolete and the additional regulation will not benefit customers. Today, operators implement a variety of technologies to deliver video, so the concept of a universal STB is impractical without significant and costly changes to the delivery networks.

Establishing a standard for customer premises equipment presents a risk of stifling innovation and other unintended consequences.

Most video today is delivered via broadcast technology, an approach used since the earliest broadcasts beginning in last century. Current technology does not support a universal Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) or Set Top Boxes (STB). The network investment required for a “Bring Your Own Box (BYOB)” environment would increase cost burdens on carriers and ultimately consumers.

There is already a significant capital expenditure for the industry just to maintain the current status quo, let alone if it was required to change its platform to a new, ill-defined and undeveloped open source platform. Today’s pay-TV technology does not support universal CPE; each operator purchases equipment based on its own specifications. Therefore, the equipment provided is not interchangeable, as operators have selected different technologies. Future investment could be slowed as each carrier would need the currently non-existent standards body to approve network upgrades and enhancements. It could take years to develop a true standard and standards body, while technology is quickly taking the industry in a different direction.

Furthermore, creating regulation for STB CPE increases risk of government regulation on IP-based video solutions in the future, which may decrease the willingness of technology companies to invest in such solutions. Therefore, creating regulation to increase competition today could decrease competitive solutions in the market in the future.


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