Nearly two weeks after introducing his proposal to overhaul the set-top box market, and nearly two weeks after being on the receiving end of cable companies’ criticism, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler took to Variety's "PopPolitics" SiriusXM radio show to defend his recent proposal. Cable companies argue Wheeler's proposal, which aims to create an open standard for set-top boxes, harms innovation. They already innovate by creating apps for third-party boxes. Wheeler doesn't buy that argument, though. "You are telling me that a locked down, closed system will have more impetus to be innovative, than a competitive, open system," he said. "I think that history shows that it is exactly the opposite of what happens in reality."
If passed, his proposal would require cable companies to open up their raw channel data so third-party companies could integrate it into their cable boxes. This, he said, would make it easier for consumers to watch TV and to "shape television to how they use it." Apple, for example, could use the channel data to allow users to watch TV directly from their Apple TVs. Right now, people who own third-party boxes can’t access cable channels directly from their devices, unless they use a cable company’s app. The apps aren't available through every provider or on every device. Even if consumers choose to use the apps, they're also required to rent a cable box from their telecom provider.
"All we are saying is, ‘Cable operators, you can go ahead and control your product. But have an open platform so that anyone can build a device, and then let’s compete on who can offer the better device,’" Wheeler said. "Let’s have the cable company say, ‘You want to pay me for my interface, because it does all these things nobody else does.’ Rather than, ‘You must pay me.’ We are just trying to get to that basic American concept of competition."
telecoms say this proposal sets the industry back
Telecoms argue an app-based model will solve the problem of mandatory set-top box rentals. This proposal, they say, sets the industry back. No one wants a box anymore, so why not let the telecoms create apps and be innovative on that front? Wheeler doesn’t see apps as an answer.
"The big kick I get is that AT&T and the cable companies have been putting out statements saying, ‘This is going to thwart innovation,’" Wheeler said. "And I scratch my head and say, ‘My goodness, let’s see. When is the last time that competition thwarted innovation rather than spurring innovation," he asked. This has never happened, he answered.
The proposal would ultimately allow all devices to work together seamlessly. Still, the debate is only going to continue until the February 18th vote. If the proposal passes, it will be opened to the public for comments, which will then lead to a vote on the proposal’s final draft.