Cable Industry Quietly Shelves Its Bogus Plan To Make Cable Boxes Cheaper, More Competitive

from the misbehaving-without-a-baby-sitter dept

Last year, the cable industry quietly launched one of the most misleading and successful lobbying efforts in the industry’s history. The target? A plan concocted by the former FCC that would have let customers watch cable programming without having to rent a cable box or use a CableCARD. Given the industry makes $21 billion annually in rental fees off of this entrenched hardware monopoly, the industry got right to work with an absolute wave of disinformation, claiming that the FCC’s plan would confuse customers, increase piracy, and was (with a little help from Jesse Jackson) somehow even racist (seriously).

At one point, the industry even managed to grab the help of the US Copyright Office, which falsely claimed that more cable box competition would somehow violate copyright. Of course the plan had nothing to do with copyright, and everything to do with control, exemplifying once again that for the US Copyright Office, public welfare is often a distant afterthought.

As part of this stage show, the cable industry also created a group specifically tasked with attacking the proposal. Dubbed the Future of TV Coalition, the group set forth to not only attack the FCC’s plan, but to propose its own counter proposal it claimed made any cable box reform efforts at the FCC unnecessary. Dubbed the “ditch the box” proposal, the cable industry and the Future of TV Coalition breathlessly stated the industry (pdf) was already cooking up ways to help consumers avoid rental fees have greater choice, and that these efforts were already well underway:

“This new ?Ditch the Box? approach calls for binding, enforceable obligations for major TV providers to allow customers to ditch their set-top boxes and access live and on demand programming via boxless apps compatible with a wide range of retail devices, including smart TVs, game consoles, streaming devices, laptops, tablets, phones, and more…Providers will have two years to fully implement the new requirements ? and many are already racing to do so sooner.”

That was then, this is now. Shortly after Trump’s election win, the new Ajit Pai led FCC quickly moved to scuttle the plan. And not too surprisingly, the cable industry’s counter plan to make lives better for consumers never actually materialized, and appears to have been mothballed:

“The Future of TV Coalition has gone silent ? it last tweeted Nov. 28 ? the cable industry?s trade group NCTA hasn?t had much to say about it either. NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz wrote in an e-mail that Ditch the Box was pitched as ?an ?alternative? to the Wheeler?s original proposal. Without the FCC?s acceptance of Ditch the Box, that plan got ditched.”

So without somebody actively pressuring an uncompetitive sector to stop being uncompetitive, they continue to be uncompetitive. Who could have possibly predicted that? Of course the cable industry continues to pay empty lip service to the idea of choice and freedom, all the while continuing efforts to make actual consumer choice on this front as difficult and expensive as ever (see Comcast’s decision to charge users a completely unnecessary fee just to use a Roku as a cable box, or cross-industry efforts to use unnecessary broadband usage caps and overage fees to drive up the cost of streaming via their competitors).

The cable industry falsely believes this is all an ingenious plan to keep its traditional cable TV cash cow alive indefinitely. But as the continued and accelerating rate of TV cord cutting illustrates, the cable sector isn’t going to be nearly as impervious to market evolution as it likes to believe.

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Comments on “Cable Industry Quietly Shelves Its Bogus Plan To Make Cable Boxes Cheaper, More Competitive”

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37 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

“Last year, the cable industry quietly launched one of the most misleading and successful lobbying efforts in the industry’s history.”

Don’t worry, the Net-neutrality supporters launched an equally misleading effort.

For the net-neutrality arena…
Regulation is viewed as a something that will save us. It will not.
DeRegulation is viewed as a something that will destroy us. It will not.

Regulation is not going away, it is just being changed to advantage business and disadvantage consumers.
Asking for regulations “blindly” to save you from business, is just like handing a Gun to Satan and asking him to save your house from the thieves outside trying to break in. There is a good chance that things are not going to work out as you might expect. Satan is likely to walk out and make a deal with them instead and the deal would be like follows.

Satan tells the thieves, well, you can only have 1/2 of their property or I will stop you, but you need to give me 30% of your take when you are done *wink wink*. Satan then walks back in and verbally self masturbates that he stopped them from taking 1/2 of your shit so be happy!

Satan is now a winner on all sides! hoorah!

That is what regulation of the type that you guys are asking for will bring. Hell, it has “already brought it”!

I cannot tell my ISP to fuck off while regulation is keeping them entrenched as the ONLY isp in my area where they are allowed a death grip on the local market.

You want regulation? great, but stick ONLY to anti-monopoly and anti-trust, NOTHING ELSE! That means taking away the natural monopoly of infrastructure and making it a public managed property where businesses pay for their usage so that they cannot block other competitors from starting up and providing a better service.

Any form of regulation that allows government to tell a business what it has to do always leads to regulatory capture and you getting what you thought regulation was going to save you from.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

In most countries where there is competition between ISP’s, it has been achieved by regulations that force the infrastructure providers to open their infrastructure to other providers, along with a regulator keeping a strong eye on what they charge for that access, so that they do not price their competitors out of the market.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

yes, but that is essentially anti-monopoly regulation right? Which I can accept and what I said lets stick only too.

There is no doubt that every business will use every trick it can to separate a consumer and their cash with the minimal amount of service/expenditure possible. The only value that government can serve is to prevent those same businesses from being able to collude with each other or block challengers to their markets.

My problem is based on this principle.
Government can only be allowed to tell citizens and business what they are not allowed to do.
It can never be allowed to tell citizens and business what they must do.

If they can tell you what you must do, then it precludes all other things because you have to do it. That is to restrictive. If you tell them what they cannot do, then it does allow for greater potential for innovation because a business could come up with a new and creative way to deal with waste or recycle something. But if they are told how they must do things, then they have lower incentive to research newer better ways to do things because now they have to fight a regulatory climate where “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality pervades things even when it is CLEARLY broken!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Yes, I am okay with net neutrality on its principles. But I did not like Wheeler’s version of it where Zero Rating was loop holed in. Too many people liked that Dingo. Sometimes nothing is worse than limp wrist attempts to do something. It can be like pushing against a tree branch and then suddenly letting it go in victory when what you only did was give the person right behind you a solid smack to the face. That causes problems we usually refer to as unintended consequences.

which is why I am default against regulation and default for free-market principle. My biggest problem is the idea that people have where regulation is magically immune from the forces that seek to obtain monopolies. It is less immune from those forces in reality.

Regulation of some kind is definitely going to be necessary just to have society operate, but regulation that removes a citizens choice in the matter has always resulted in a net loss, hence my allegory of Satan being asked to defend your house from thieves. Sure you did get a benefit, after all you only lost 1/2 of your possession instead of all of them. But the problem is that you still got screwed! I seek a fair and equitable solution where the thieves get jail time and the “corrupt defenders” are put out of business.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“This narrative that “blind deregulation magically fixes everything” (including established predatory monopolies) is already shallow and simplistic to begin with,”

There is no end to your ignorance is there?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Communications_Commission

“The important relationship of the FCC and the American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) Company evolved over the decades. For many years, the FCC and state officials agreed to regulate the telephone system as a natural monopoly.[52] The FCC controlled telephone rates and imposed other restrictions under Title II to limit the profits of AT&T and ensure nondiscriminatory pricing.”

The FCC started this monopoly affair to begin with, and like a silly patsy you are working to the benefit of the very companies you claim to hate. You have no power, you gave it away to the Politicians through regulation. You deserve everything they give you.

Those willing to give up essential liberty, for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety.

The moment you turn to a politician to save you, you get the “Devil’s Deal”! Enjoy it because you are going to spend the rest of your days kicking and screaming by it! And I want you to think of me every time you get ready to write an article about how the “regulators” are not doing what you want despite wanting to give them more power to screw you harder!

You are welcome sir! You helped us all to earn this!

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

…how does recognizing that a market is naturally structured in such a way that running it in any way which is not a monopoly will be impractically inefficient, and regulating that market to limit the negative impacts of that monopoly, constitute "starting [a] monopoly affair"?

The monopoly would have existed with or without the regulation, or the FCC. All the FCC did was attempt to keep the negative aspects of the monopoly in check, using the power it has under Title II.

And it mostly seemed to work, until the companies convinced the FCC that the fact that they also provided some non-Title-II-compatible services meant that none of their services should be classified under Title II. At which point the regulation went away, and the monopoly effect was still there.

And the result is where the market now stands: little or no competition in most regions, horrible customer service ratings, high prices, arguably-abusive terms of service, et cetera.

klarg (profile) says:

Re: Re:

From what source do you cut and paste this stuff? What, you otiginated this?

If you want “no regulation” you might also want free and fair open markets. Telecoms and cable carriers do not operate in free and fair open markets, they do not want to. So competition as a “leveler” and arbiter of behavoir does not apply in this market. So regulation must be used to control the behavior in the market.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Does not matter you obviously did not read all of what I wrote anyways.

The first thing the FCC did was destroy the Free-Market, which is what helped guarantee the need for regulation, so of course there is no real competition. You got played, we all did. I am just one of the few that woke up and realized it!

“So regulation must be used to control the behavior in the market.”

I am not sure how demonically true you realize that statement to be. Government is the greatest source of all of humanities problems, what sense does it make to allow it to “control the behavior in the market”?

The instability that lead to the FCC is no mistake. Just like the instability that lead to the creation of the Federal Reserve. People with more money and intelligence than you are busy figuring out what to say to sucker everyone into their con. They have the money and time to strategize on this while most everyone else works their life away working for the man.

Anonymous Coward says:

"the industry makes $21 million annually in rental fees" -- From 100 or so million subscribers, you're hot on 20 CENTS a year?

I can’t guess whether that figure is due to Techdirt’s usual accuracy or its usual inflating of trifles.

So first clarify for me whether you’re wrong on the figure or wrong because cable TV is a luxury that no one is forcing you to pay.

Either way on that: clearly your main interest is in reducing cable co security (DRM) to facilitate piracy and infringing content. Techdirt never supports any actual public good, only to get free entertainments./

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "the industry makes $21 million annually in rental fees" -- From 100 or so million subscribers, you're hot on 20 CENTS a year?

One of the many oddities here at Techdirt is ANCIENT ZOMBIES suddenly resurrecting:

https://www.techdirt.com/user/andrewlduane — On May 1st, 2017 @ 9:27am pops up after prior nearly SEVEN years before on Nov 23rd, 2010 @ 11:09am.

You can’t explain that. People suddenly recall this minor little site, user name, AND password after SEVEN years? Baloney! — Even if is a way to renew forgotten password, the urge to comment after so long is inexplicable.

My guess so far is old accounts are taken over for astro-turfing, but whether by “administrators” or “AI” is open because they’re typically bland, which is quite helpful to TD by presenting the illusion that reasonable persons habit the site.

No, I don’t have even one more to example at the moment (but were several clued me to this trend): just watch for names you don’t recognize and check date at bottom on first page of history.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "the industry makes $21 million annually in rental fees" -- From 100 or so million subscribers, you're hot on 20 CENTS a year?

Good, ’cause I think that I’m paying about 21Mil 🙂 for the exciting cable technology boxes that I have to rent from them.

*Yes, I have looked into using TIVO boxes, but they, too, require a cable card that costs the same as a box from my provider – so there is no savings.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "the industry makes $21 million annually in rental fees" -- From 100 or so million subscribers, you're hot on 20 CENTS a year?

>> Typo, dude. As for the rest, PLEASE remember to include a “sarcasm” tag so people don’t think you’re a shill.

Well, I’m not being sarcastic, so that’d be lying. My hope was to point up that plain error.

And it’s STILL not corrected nearly TWO hours after appeared! That’s ypical Techdirt accuracy. So, my comment stands until Techdirt admits error.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "the industry makes $21 million annually in rental fees" -- From 100 or so million subscribers, you're hot on 20 CENTS a year?

>> +10 entertainments to you dear sir.

>>> I marked your post as funny! It’s a joke, right?

Gosh, happy to disappoint you! But this is just little old ME. PaulT and maybe you seem upset at forcing people to give up screen names so can have the right expectation, but I didn’t get ANY support here when my chosen name was abused by false posts, so now I’m just AC.

scotts13 (profile) says:

I HATE renting hardware from the cable company

I don’t use a cable box, I own a TiVo with cable company-supplied CableCard, which they rent to me. I wanted to get rid of that, so I called the cable company about buying my own card. “Sure!” they said; told me where to turn in their card, how much I’d save, and how to activate my own card.

Worked for a few days, then stopped. When I called again, I was told I COULD NOT use my own card, the previous representative must be crazy. “There’s no way to add your card to our database of authorized cards.”

Not easy to escape, this.

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