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New FCC chairman drops ‘unlock the box’ plans

Ajit Pai

Ajit Pai

The FCC’s new chairman, Ajit Pai, has removed the regulator’s plans to ‘unlock the box’ plans from its list of items pending action.

The proposal to allow software, devices, and other solutions to compete with operator-provided set-top boxes was not included on the FCC Items on Circulation list, published at the end of last week.

A Federal Communications Commission representative confirmed the move to US-based tech site Ars Technica, which reported the news first.

The FCC, under the leadership of previous chairman Tom Wheeler, approved plans last February designed to “tear down anti-competitive barriers” in the set-top box market.

The FCC said at the time that the proposal offered a framework to “unlock the box”, giving more choices to the “99% US pay TV subscribers” that currently lease set-top boxes from their cable and satellite operators.

It added that the move was designed to address “the many ways consumers access their subscription video programming today” and a lack of competition that has meant “few choices and high prices for consumers”.

Former US president Barack Obama backed the plans in April and a post on the official White House website read: “Instead of spending nearly US$1,000 over four years to lease a set of behind-the-times boxes, American families will have options to own a device for much less money that will integrate everything they want – including their cable or satellite content, as well as online streaming apps – in one, easier-to-use gadget.”

However, not everyone supported the plans. The FCC’s proposals met opposition from Future of Television Coalition – an organisation that included US pay TV operators Dish and Cablevision and set-top maker Arris among its ranks.

The organisation was set up to oppose “unnecessary technology mandates” that it claimed would threaten market-based innovation in the TV space, and described the FCC’s proposal as “flawed”, “costly” and “destructive”.

Pai, who is known to be an outspoken critic of net neutrality, was appointed by Trump as chairman of the US media and telecoms regulator last week. He has served as an FCC commissioner since 2012 and early in his career worked for two years as associate general counsel to US telco Verizon. 

Tags: Ajit Pal, FCC, US