Under Cable Lobbying Assault, FCC Commissioners Waffling On Cable Box Competition Plan

from the $21-billion-reasons-to-fold dept

The cable industry's relentless lobbying assault on the FCC's plan to bring competition to the cable box appears to be working. As we've been covering, cable lobbyists have been filling editorial sections nationwide with all manner of misleading dreck, claiming the FCC's plan (which you can read here (pdf)) will increase piracy, hinder innovation, hurt minorities, and rip giant holes in the time-space continuum. They've also engaged in the time-honored tradition of paying lawmakers that have no idea how technology works to make all manner of false claims about what the FCC's plan actually does.

Unfortunately for those of you tired of paying the cable industry $21 billion annually to rent a shitty cable box, it looks like the efforts are working.

Two of the Democratic Commissioners that originally voted yes on the plan say they're starting to get cold feet, surely only coincidentally after the cable industry decided to ramp up lobbying to levels not seen since 2009 to try and kill the plan. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, for example, is now claiming that the FCC plan she voted for is "too complicated" and that the FCC should compromise with the cable industry on some kind of new arrangement:
"Kudos to the chairman for kicking off this conversation [Rosenworcel voted along with Wheeler and Democrat Mignon Clyburn to kick off that conversation], but it has become clear the original proposal has real flaws and, as I have suggested before, is too complicated. We need to find another way forward." She was not endorsing the cable effort, but instead appeared to be supporting the effort to find a compromise proposal that addresses the flaws. "I am glad that efforts are underway to hash out alternatives that provide consumers with more choice and more competition at lower cost."
Except there's nothing really that complicated or "flawed" about what the FCC is proposing. Under the plan, cable operators simply have to provide access to their programming -- using systems and copy protection of their choice -- to third-party hardware vendors without the need for a cable card. While there's certainly some engineering challenges with the idea, the "complicated" part only really comes from the cable industry's decision to fight cable box competition tooth and nail.

Meanwhile, the "compromise" referenced by the article that appears to have swayed Rosenworcel isn't much of one. Instead of real cable box competition, the cable industry has proposed a plan whereby they simply have to deliver their programming via app -- but consumers would still have to pay for a cable box if they want to do things like record via DVR. Consumer advocates and groups like INCOMPAS are warning that the cable industry will go out of is way in any voluntary proposal to find creative ways to continue forcing consumers to use their hardware and services.

And Rosenworcel doesn't appear to be alone in waffling. Commissioner Mignon Clyburn also appears to be buckling under the weight of false narratives suggesting the FCC's plan somehow needs to be rolled back, lest it damage "copyright, security and privacy":
"We also asked Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn's office if she still supports the original proposal and got this response: "Commissioner Clyburn appreciates and welcomes the constructive ‎efforts by industry to put forward an alternative apps-based proposal. She continues to study the proposal with an eye towards a solution that adheres to Section 629 of the Communications Act; ensures truly competitive choice; enhances access to diverse programming; and provides the protections for copyright, security and privacy that consumers have come to expect."
Note again that the two waffling commissioners don't really provide any solid reasons why the FCC's original proposal couldn't work, but it's pretty clear that they've been influenced -- to one degree or another -- by the paid sound wall cable lobbyists have constructed in trying to scuttle real cable box competition. With their fellow Commissioners Pai and O'Rielly voting no on the proposal (because voting no on consumer friendly policies is their entire purpose in life) and foundering support among Democratic commissioners, Wheeler won't have the political firepower to get the plan approved.

Again that's not the end of the world. The legacy cable TV industry's empire is slowly crumbling with or without the FCC's help, it will just take a little longer if the FCC doesn't give the entire process a swift kick in the ass. If the FCC's cable box proposal sinks, the agency has more time and calories to focus on what's truly going to be important in the new streaming TV age: bringing real, sustained competition to bear on the broken U.S. broadband market.

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  • icon
    art guerrilla (profile), 29 Jun 2016 @ 3:51pm

    when a system determines money = speech...

    ...what other outcome is possible ? ? ?

    which is why i propose Coin Flip for President ! ! !

    unlike the present situation stacked against us, where approximately 99% of the legislation enacted, and judicial decisions are against the interests of the 99% for the benefit of the 1%; President Coin Flip GUARAN-DAMN-TEES that 50% of the legislation enacted and judicial decisions will be TO BENEFIT the 99% ! ! !
    that is AT LEAST 49% better than NOW ! ! !
    W O W ! ! !
    Vote Coin Flip 2016, the odds are in your favor.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2016 @ 5:11pm

      Re: when a system determines money = speech...

      Money can NEVER be removed from politics. No matter what cocked up rules you create.

      It's like bitching about water because people are drowning in it!

      Stop voting in corruptible assholes, or the two party system!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 30 Jun 2016 @ 5:28am

        Re: Re: when a system determines money = speech...

        What is the electorate supposed to do when all you have to choose from are "corruptible assholes"?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Justme, 30 Jun 2016 @ 1:38pm

        Re: Re: when a system determines money = speech...

        Please tell us the of name's of all the people currently running for a congressional seat that aren't corruptible assholes.

        The system has been about money for so long that most of those that choose to run do so for exactly that reason, you get a few that run for the right reason's but the vast majority are just looking out for their own bottom line.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 30 Jun 2016 @ 4:02pm

          Re: Re: Re: when a system determines money = speech...

          Not only that but the system is basically skewed to screen for corruption, as no/little money means your odds of being elected are much lower than those with lots of money from generous 'donations'.

          Someone who's willing to take money but doesn't vote 'properly' isn't likely to receive any money when it comes time for re-election, and the one term they spend in office their efforts are likely to be completely buried by those that are willing to return the favor for all the 'donations' they received to ensure that those 'donations' will still be there when it's their time for re-election.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2016 @ 4:12pm

    Cable box competition already exists

    It's called your PC.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Elsie, 29 Jun 2016 @ 4:15pm

    Let Them Choose the Suit They are Buried In

    I thought about dashing off any angry email to the FCC, but it occurred to me that the cable industry is so fundamentally flawed that I should do everything in my power to hasten its death.

    Vote NO on cable box regulation!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2016 @ 4:22pm

      Re: Let Them Choose the Suit They are Buried In

      >Vote NO

      We can't even do that. An unelected bureaucrat is using tax money to make decisions in our interest. At least they take input, though.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JBDragon (profile), 30 Jun 2016 @ 7:43am

      Re: Let Them Choose the Suit They are Buried In

      I say let things continue as they are. I cut the cord, well as best as I could. I'm not paying for Cable TV or a Cable box, though I just got on a new deal from Comcast where I only wanted Internet service, but it was cheaper to get some basic channels and got this cheap cable box where I don't pay anything for, plus a pick of either HBO or Showtime, I went HBO. They're pretty much just giving me HBO for free. This is how hard they're trying to keep people paying for TV service.

      So I have this cable box I can't even use unless I run wiring for it, which I have no interest in doing as I didn't want it. There's no rental fee on it so I don't care. I get my HBO using the HBOGo App on my devices, expect HBOGo on my Tivo doesn't work as Comcast won't allow it to work on a TIVO!!! That sucks!!!! But works on my AppleTV and ROKU and other devices just fine.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 29 Jun 2016 @ 4:25pm

    Because it WORKS

    There was a reason they've been spending out the nose making absurd claims and paying others to parrot it, because it works.

    Like the 'repeat a lie often enough and it becomes hard to distinguish it from the truth' idea, they were willing to roll out a clown show full of lies and half-truths because there was good odds that it would work, and with twenty-one billion from a captive audience on the line you'd better believe they'd be willing to spend heavily to protect that.

    Whether the change of mind is due to the lies and mis-information, the reminder that the cable industry is willing to spend(and therefore 'donate') heavily to protect their profits, or a mix of both, the results are the same.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    freakanatcha, 29 Jun 2016 @ 4:34pm

    Under Cable Lobbying Assault, FCC Commissioners Waffling On Cable Box Competition Plan

    Ok, let the cable guys keep the boxes. Then have the FCC rule that they have to sell channels ala carte. No more forcing me to buy 500 channels, of which I actually watch 5.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2016 @ 4:36pm

    "...provides the protections for copyright, security and privacy that consumers have come to expect."

    We've 'come to expect' that like we've 'come to expect' used car salesmen to scam us. It's a bug, not a feature.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2016 @ 4:52pm

    Competition

    Once Techdirt had an article which mentioned that buggy whip manufacturers mistakenly thought the arena in which the competed was buggy accessories. When automobiles replaced buggies they went out of business. Had they properly recognized themselves as being in the transportation business they could have pivoted their business model to remain relevant.

    Now that I have totally butchered that retelling. I was a longtime subscriber to Dish until a couple of years ago. They wouldn't let me have the new set-top box with nice features without a long contract. So I bought a Roku and connected Netflix along with a bunch of other streaming channels and dumped Dish. The point is, there is set-top box competition. With all of the devices capable of streaming video they better adapt or they will by default take their place in history along side the buggy whip manufacturers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2016 @ 5:26pm

      Re: Competition

      You butchered nothing.

      What you see going on with the FCC is what regulation does. If we had no regulation or at most only anti-monopoly anti-trust regulation, the consumers could change the market, but with current anything goes regulation, each telco has an assigned plot of monopoly provided to them by none other then the FCC. Now that the FCC is threatening that they are fighting back. And they will act like this is terrible but they love it because it is easier to shop congress that it is to shop a free market.

      Sure you will hear all the rest spew garbage about those dirty rotten capitalist being evil and buying monopolies if it were not for regulation, but right now we citizens are fighting both government and telco. We The People fight on two fronts while Congress and Business fights together against us. Yea, we are real geniuses.

      I sit here watching and wondering why we keep advocating for the very things that destroy us in an attempt to escape that destruction. What you see in front of you and the FCC is the very definition of insanity.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    CanadianByChoice (profile), 29 Jun 2016 @ 6:26pm

    Block set-top competition and speed up cable demise!

    By not allowing "set-top competition", the cable industry is actually hastening the day of their own demise; as more people become dis-enchanted with the overbearing attitudes and price scamming, they will "cut the cord" and drop cable service that much sooner.
    Allowing a little competition to creep in could be spun (by the cable companies) as "giving people what they want" in a very positive PR campaign that could, potentially, allow them to survive longer (they're doomed anyway, it's a question of when).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2016 @ 7:04pm

      Re: Block set-top competition and speed up cable demise!

      They already pushed me away. I bought a $35 cheapo DVR and have a terabyte drive and OTA antenna attached. 70 channels, and no fees.

      My breaking point was years ago when I actually worked for Dish Network and they literally forced employees to have an active subscription. It was supposedly free, with the monthly service charge covered, but the fees brought it up to over $25 a month.

      When you can't even help yourself from ripping off your own employees...something is wrong.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    testcore (profile), 29 Jun 2016 @ 6:34pm

    hope for a greater strategy

    I'd actually hope the whole cable box thing is just one of many "assaults" the FCC launches over the next couple years in a strategy to tie up the companies'resources on multiple costly fronts. A serial approach will never work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2016 @ 7:33pm

    Hrumph.

    "Did you hear the story about the guy that turned on his television so often, it finally turned on him?"

    Haven't had a television or watched since 2006. Loads more time to do important things like hug the family, read a book, watch the stars, or just be instead of do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Jun 2016 @ 7:41pm

    I'm to the point now I really don't care. Why? Long ago I dumped the PPV. It was no longer worth the price they were asking for then and it hasn't gotten better. So the price of rental isn't even a consideration any more as I no longer own a tv and don't want another in my house.

    One of the big hitters for me in making this decision long ago was that there was nothing I was looking forward to coming up each month with the exception of one or two shows a month. Another was the constant replay. When you look at what now passes for OTT, it's going the same way. You see replays or back to back of one show, with no other choice during that time span and pretty much all channels are going to this. Why would I pay for that?

    After many years without you couldn't pay me to take it today. I have now realized how nice it is to have peace in the house unbroken by a constant stream of commercials. I won't give that up willingly. Asking me to pay for such is just too much.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 29 Jun 2016 @ 9:09pm

    Noooooooooooo.......!!!

    But they told us good was more powerful than evil. How can this be?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jun 2016 @ 6:31am

    Nobody has brought up

    that DRM now extends all the way to the monitor. At this point it is unnecessary to have any kind of transceiver for broadcast type services AT ALL.

    If the T.V. does TCP/IP, then it is all just Internet. The issue here is that the capacity for the broadcasters is private, and they are using that private capacity to compel content selection. (read as: execute anti-competitive market leverage over consumer content)

    The cost differential between compressed streamed video over proprietary FDM to a cable box, and compressed streamed video over TCP/IP is marginal. Maintaining two systems in parallel though, IS more expensive. So why do they still do it, if it wasn't for the market leverage?

    There is no technical reason to have a cable box AT ALL. The cable box is just the tokenization of market leverage, nothing more. Every other attribute of merit has been overlayed with something better on the public Internet.

    There isn't much difference between a device like an X-box and a P.C. But there is a HUGE difference between a cable box and either of those. The cable box has whole parallel proprietary network supporting it.

    That parallel network is deprecated. Has been for decades. And they've been propping up a corpse in the window instead of hiring a new sheriff.

    What we are really talking about is whether there will be a free market for IOT. (shudder) The cable cabal wants to maintain their special proprietary string-and-can so they can do the same thing with IOT that they did with T.V. for years and years.

    To draw a parallel. If you understand what happened G.M. and CARB, it isn't unreasonable to regard G.M.'s sadistic subversion of an entire burgeoning national manufacturing industry as an act of economic and environmental terrorism. Replace "environmental terrorism" with "first amendment suppression", and you've got a pretty good parallel between G.M. and CARB, and the cable cabal and network neutrality.

    So while I think the FCC was wrong to go in the direction of cable boxes, (and were probably bated into doing so) I also think the reason they were baited was to subvert the FCC specifically, rather to further any particular end.

    The cable box in its current form, is a dead man walking. Everybody knows that. So talking about it is a waste of time. IMHO this whole thing is entirely diversionary. The cabal is just buying time. Probably because they've already negotiated the terms of their fiefdom over the 1st amendment with the Demopublican alliance.

    My expectation is that they probably get first pick on the open SCOTUS seat.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Jun 2016 @ 7:29am

      Re: Nobody has brought up

      No to be pedantic, but video isn't usually streamed using TCP. It's typically UDP.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 30 Jun 2016 @ 12:19pm

        Re: Re: Nobody has brought up

        To be even less pedantic, TCP/IP is generally used to refer to the whole of the protocol suite that was previously provided by Berkely Sockets. Which includes UDP, but may also also include ICMP if I recall correctly.

        But we wouldn't want to get too hung up on the details. :-)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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