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Obama backs FCC proposal to ‘unlock the box’

Barack-Obama-140x140US president Barack Obama has backed plans by regulator the FCC to allow software, devices, and other solutions to compete with the set-top boxes.

A post on the official White House website confirmed that the President and his administration are calling on the Federal Communications Commission to open up set-top cable boxes to competition, letting companies create “new, innovative, higher-quality, lower-cost products”.

“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,” according to the post.

The White House likened the situation in America today, whereby an estimated 99% of cable subscribers lease a set-top box to get their cable and satellite programming, to the 1980s when phone companies had a monopoly “not just on the wire to your house but, in many cases, on the phone you plugged into that wire.”

The government described the set-top box as a “stand-in” for all parts of the US economy where competition “could do more”, using the issue to also announce a broader executive order, called ‘steps to increase competition and better inform consumers and workers to support continued growth of the American economy.

The Future of Television Coalition – an organisation that was set up to oppose “unnecessary technology mandates” that it claims threaten market-based innovation in the TV space – described the White House’s position as “deeply disappointing”.

In a statement, the coalition – which counts companies like US pay TV operators Dish and Cablevision and set-top maker Arris as members – said it appeared that the government had “outsourced a major tech policy decision to Mountain View” as it is effectively endorsing a proposal backed by Google.

“We all agree on the goal of greater consumer choice in video devices.  But we disagree strenuously (as does so much of the television ecosystem) with Google’s viewpoint that the only way to get more choice and innovation is through a FCC technology mandate that will decimate the creative industry, rip up licensing protections, tear down the value of content, and strip away consumer privacy protections,” said the coalition.

The FCC approved plans earlier this year to “unlock the box” in a bid to tear down anti-competitive barriers in the TV space.