Cable Lobbying Group’s Set-Top Box Plan: App That Doesn’t Do The Things You Want

Image courtesy of geetargeek

It’s been nearly six months since the FCC first proposed doing something about the cable set-top box market. Since then, the White House and Congress have both had their say about it, while all along the cable industry has been lobbying and complaining incessantly. But behind all that, the FCC and the industry are at least talking to each other to try to hash out what the future could look like. Unfortunately, if industry gets its way, that future could leave a lot of consumers’ favorite features behind their TV providers’ big fat “pay me” gates.

The NCTA — pay-TV’s big lobbying group — offered its own counter-proposal to the FCC back in June. The FCC sent back a list of questions for the industry, about how their suggestions would work, exactly. And now the NCTA has weighed in with their response (PDF), outlining exactly how it thinks it should be allowed to deliver your TV to you.

The result is a plan that, while being HTML5-based — the language of the modern web and app economy — seems not so much to embrace the future, as it does try to block it.

The NCTA proposal would, on paper, do what the FCC wants: open up the market to third-party hardware. Pay-TV companies with more than 1 million subscribers, under this plan, would be required to create a licensed app that would go to third-party devices and app stores, and that app would not have an additional charge. So you’d get around the $10 per month for a cable box, by using your cable company’s app on another device instead. So far, so good.

But those apps would not be considered internet-delivered (OTT) TV. So all the differences between watching TV on Comcast and watching through, say, Sling or Vue or Amazon or whatnot would still hold. The content you would get through the app would be considered “cable,” even if it came through your internet modem, and would not count as broadband content legally speaking. It would be a managed network, that your provider could do what they want to, and net neutrality (and ISP privacy rules, should any pass) would not apply.

And one of the biggest challenges? The FCC wants cable companies to make now-standard tech — DVRs and buffers that let you pause, fast-forward, or rewind — part of their plan, and the NCTA isn’t having it. The apps they propose would let a customer watch their TV, both linear (channels as they air) and on-demand, but wouldn’t let you record anything for later.

By keeping DVR capability behind a $10-per-month rental fee, cable companies would probably be able to do a pretty good job quashing millions of customers’ desire to go elsewhere and not pay their cable companies a fee.

It remains to be seen whether the FCC likes this clarification any more than it liked the industry’s initial draft, about which FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said in June, “One page is a press release, not a proposal.”

[via Ars Technica]

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