Outside the Box

FCC vs. providers


In January, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced a rule that would require cable providers to allow outside companies to sell the set-top boxes that control many in-home cable subscriptions. "It's time to unlock the set-top box market—let's let innovators create, and then let consumers choose," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote in an article explaining the proposal. The move has the support of all three Democrats on the five-person board.

The agency's plan would force cable companies to make software that could fill in for a "CableCard"—the hardware key that allows a cable box to interpret television signals. Cable providers would then have to allow competitors to use that software to create apps or hardware to interface with the cable connection.

The plan sparked bipartisan concern from Congress. In a May letter, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R–Va.) and ranking member John Conyers (D–Mich.) charged that the proposal would facilitate copyright infringement.

The cable industry, meanwhile, moved faster than either Congress or the FCC. In April, Comcast announced that it would launch a program designed to allow subscribers with smart televisions to watch with no cable box at all.