Will the FCC Force New Changes to Television Providers and Set Top Boxes?

On Thursday, top US communications regulator announced a plan to let approximately 100 million pay TV subscribers to replace their expensive set-top service boxes with less-costly web apps that provide the same access to television and other video programs.

According to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler had originally proposed, in January, to open the $20 billion cable and satellite TV set-top box market to new competitors and also to allow consumers to access various content providers from one device or even a single app.

This plan, of course, is to break the grip the cable industry has over the highly lucrative pay TV market, and to lower prices for consumers.  And, as can be expected, this has drawn great criticism from those who provide television content; companies like AT&T, Comcast Corp, and Twenty-First Century Fox.

In the filing, the FCC reports that Americans spend approximately $20 billion every year to lease these pay-TV boxes. This is an average of $231annually, per person.  Since 1994, set-top box rental fees have jumped a massive 185 percent. Alternately, though, the cost of televisions, computers, and mobile phones—all mediums used to watch programming—has fallen by as much as 90 percent.

The new plan will require that the largest cable TV providers develop applications that can offer access to all of the same programming including also on-demand and live content.  And then these apps will be available on every media platform. This includes Windows, iOS, Android, and Roku.

Universal searches through these apps will include various catalogs of TV provider companies. This will allow, for example, that an Apple TV viewer could search through a provider’s on-demand and other programming, with access additional programming—like through Netflix—available simultaneously.

The hope is that this move will bring television out of the stone age, so to speak.  Although televisions have changed dramatically over the past few decades, television programming has really not undergone much innovation.

This proposal will take some control away from tech companies and put it under the control of the cable companies, so it is not quite clear, yet, how interested tech companies like Roku, Apple, and Google are going to be in this change.

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