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Administration Supports Efforts to Boost Competition in the Set-Top-Box Market

April 15, 2016 by NTIA

From televisions to tablets to smart phones, consumers can choose from a wide variety of devices made by a range of manufacturers to view the programming they purchase from cable, satellite, and telephone company multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs). But consumers have little choice in the "navigation" devices or set-top-boxes they use to search for, select, interact with, or record that programming.  That could change if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) finalizes a proposed rule aimed at giving consumers more choice when it comes to the devices they use to access programming provided by MVPDs.

As the FCC notes, MVPDs have expanded the applications their customers can use to access content through a variety of devices. The programming, however, is generally routed first through a set-top-box that is leased to them for a monthly fee by their pay television provider. Those monthly fees add up, resulting in consumer frustration about the lack of lower-cost alternatives. And increasingly, consumers do not differentiate between online video services, such as Netflix and Amazon; pay television channels received from a cable or satellite box; and broadcast channels received over the air.  Regardless of how it's delivered, they want easy ways to search and choose the content they watch, when, and where they want to watch it. Enabling consumer choice and competition in this area is important to the digital economy.

NTIA on behalf of the Obama Administration filed comments with the FCC applauding its efforts to provide consumers with more choice in how they access multichannel video programming and to help promote innovation in this market. The proposal would allow for third-party devices and other innovative solutions to compete with the set-top-boxes that the vast majority of consumers lease from MVPDs today. Specifically, the FCC proposal would require MVPDs to provide makers of alternative devices with key information including what programming is available and the channels it is listed under, data about what a device is allowed to do with the content, and the actual programming itself.

In the Administration’s filing with the FCC, NTIA urges the FCC to take a “measured and balanced” approach to introducing competition to the set-top-box market. This includes enabling alternative providers to compete on user interfaces and other complementary features and services, while generally respecting the security and integrity of MVPD programming. New entrants must also ensure that current privacy protections remain intact. To address these complex issues, the Administration urges stakeholders to propose creative solutions during the comment period, which closes on April 22, 2016.