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GOP Asks New FCC Chairman Ajit Pai To Terminate Plan To Save Cable TV Customers Money

By Victor Thomson , Jan 26, 2017 04:20 AM EST
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Ajit Pai is expected to kill the previous plan for helping customers avoid rental fees for cable TV boxes. (Photo : Sakura Fist Looks/YouTube Screenshot)

Any hopes of passage of the Democratic plan to save cable TV customers money from paying rental fees on set-top boxes are lost since the Federal Communications Commission switched to Republican control, under Chairman Ajit Pai.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's Position

According to Ars Technica, GOP lawmakers have asked new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to close the proceeding on Democrat plan to regulate rental fees for cable TV boxes. This makes the death of the Democrat plan official.

House Republicans House Republicans wrote to Pai on Wednesday, Jan. 25 that video programming distributors, consumer electronics manufacturers, content producers, and the consumer should be informed that the Commission's consideration of the set-top box proposal has reached its end. The letter has been signed by nineteen Republican representatives, led by the chair and vice chair of the Commerce Committee Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), as well as the chair and vice-chair of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Leonard Lance (R-N.J.).

Previous Democrat Position

Tom Wheeler, the Democrat former FCC Chairman, started the set-top box effort more than a year ago, aiming to save customers money on cable box rentals. According to the original plan, pay-TV providers would be required to make video programming available to the software developers and makers of third-party devices without the need for a CableCard. Wheeler hoped that device and app makers would offer some cheaper alternatives to the set-top boxes that require paying high monthly fees.

Top cable companies such as Comcast pushed an alternative proposal and lobbied against the plan. According to the cable industry proposal, cable companies would be required to develop their own video applications for third-party set-top boxes. Wheeler accepted the basic outline of this proposal, introducing some changes. He wanted the industry to use a standard license and asked that the cable company apps must include the same recording functionality that is provided in rented set-top boxes.

Because of the changes implemented to the cable industry proposal, Republican FCC commissioners, Republican lawmakers, cable companies and programmers continued opposing the plan. Consumers would have been guaranteed, in case that the FCC had passed the modified plan, that cable company video apps would work on streaming boxes like the Roku and Apple TV and Roku, or anything running Android, Windows or iOS.

Congressional Democrats have lost their fight for set-top box reform. Wheeler wasn't able to get enough votes in the commission despite having a 3-2 Democratic majority. One of the reasons for the failure of his plan was the fact that Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel withheld support. When Democrat Hillary Clinton lost in the presidential election to Republican Donald Trump, it was the final blow to the set-top box plan.

Consumer advocacy groups are not happy with the turn of the events. For instance, consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge urged Pai to ensure that consumers can choose from a competitive market, as granted by Section 629 of the Communications Act. According to the website xfinity.com, Comcast and other pay-TV companies provide some video streaming apps but their deployment is still uneven across devices and cable companies.

According to Yahoo News, Pai is also an opponent to net neutrality. The appointment of Pai as the head of the FCC regulatory body appears to bring some important changes to the previous policies.

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