In their May 15 op-ed essay, “Switching off an outdated cable rule,” Rep. Bob Latta, Ohio Republican, and Republican Federal Communications Commission member Ajit Pai advocate ending an FCC rule that allows consumers to choose their cable-reception device.
While cable companies would certainly prefer to rent set-top boxes that generate hefty monthly fees, Congress has long mandated that cable companies cannot block consumers from using their own electronic devices to access the cable channels they are already paying for with a cable subscription. The FCC implemented this law by requiring cable-operated set-top boxes to use the same security technology as boxes available from retail stores. This so-called “integration ban” for devices basically prohibits closed systems. While updated security is needed, there should be a standard available for use in all set boxes in order to allow independent manufacturers to offer innovative features that a local cable company may not.
It’s true that the market has evolved. We can now stream some shows using a Roku box or iPhone. However, those are add-ons that cannot receive all our cable channels. Real choice and competition occurs when innovators can make devices that receive all cable programming and present that programming to cable subscribers in imaginative ways without having to ask the cable operator for permission. Having to use cable apps or give up programming, features and functionality is not real choice or competition.
My technology trade association has supported disruptive competition and innovation for more than 40 years, and this issue is reminiscent of a 1970s battle over whether customers could plug non-AT&T phones into their wall jacks. Ultimately, AT&T was forced to allow competition in the marketplace, which led to innovations such as the first cordless phones, answering machines, fax machines, computer modems and game consoles. While our industry would not support needless regulations, we do support a basic structural safeguard such as the one put in place nearly 20 years ago that requires cable companies to allow interoperable interconnection with competitive TV interface devices.
President & CEO
Computer & Communications Industry Association