The FCC has another battle on their hands. On Thursday, the “Future of TV” Coalition, a group consisting of mostly of the top TV providers, released plans for their “Ditch the Box” campaign. The pay-TV industry would commit to creating apps to allow consumers to watch programs without needing to lease a box. The FCC could implement regulations enforcing the commitment. This legislation would potentially affect roughly 50 million subscribers.
A trade group supported by Google, Netflix, and Amazon has criticized the plan for being a ploy to delay negotiations. INCOMPAS, a law firm that represents communications and technology companies, has also accused the industry of making apps-based promises it has reneged on before. Critics claim the plan is simply an attempt to try and convince federal regulators to abandon more far-reaching reforms.
Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, proposed in January opening the TV set-top box market to new competitors. Consumers would ultimately access multiple content providers from a single app or device. Wheeler would like to see more details of the “Ditch the Box” plan in order to determine “whether their proposal fully meets all of the goals of our proceeding”.
INCOMPAS and other supporters of a more open TV market believe consumers should be free from rental boxes and able to choose their own device. Consumers should have integrated search capabilities that enable to find their desired Internet streaming content. INCOMPAS also argues that fears over privacy, copyright, and licensing in an open, competitive device market are false and have been spread by cable companies.
Chip Pickering, chief executive of INCOMPAS remarked, “Their current proposal presents both some positive movement and some familiar limitations that could fall short of delivering an open, competitive marketplace...the cable industry is proposing competitive choice for streaming devices, but still seeks to retain a controlling grip on DVR’s and recordable devices.”
Companies such as AT&T Inc, Comcast Corp., Twenty-First Century Fox Inc., CBS Corp, Walt Disney Company, and Viacom along with more than 150 members of Congress have voiced concerns about copyright and content licensing. They are also worried that Alphabet Inc or Apple Inc could create devices or apps and insert their own content or advertising in cable content.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel stated, “It has become clear the original proposal [Wheeler’s plan] has real flaws. ... We need to find another way forward. So I’m glad that efforts are underway to hash out alternatives.”
The FCC voted 3-2 along party lines in February to advance Wheeler’s plan. A final vote could come as early as August. In April, President Barack Obama backed Wheeler's proposal. He stated the cable industry is "ripe for change”.