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ESHOO, MARKEY HOLD PRESS CONFERENCE TO REFORM SET-TOP BOX INDUSTRY

June 9th, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) hosted a press conference today with leaders in support of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) proposal to unlock the set-top box market. Also attending to call for the FCC to “unlock the box” were Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT); Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.); Robert L. Johnson, Chairman, RLJ Entertainment and Founder, Black Entertainment Television; Chip Pickering, CEO, INCOMPAS; Joe Weber, Chief Technology Officer, Service Provider Business Unit, TiVo; DeShuna Spencer, CEO, kweliTV; Corri Freedman, Political Director, Writers Guild of America West; and Chris Lewis, Vice President, Government Affairs, Public Knowledge.

The FCC’s proposal, mandated by Section 629 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, allows cable subscribers to purchase their own television set-top box from third parties, resulting in more competition, consumer choice, and saving consumers hundreds of dollars a year in rental fees.

“Today, tens of millions of cable customers have no choice but to pay a monthly fee for the ‘privilege’ of renting a cable box that has changed little in decades,” said Rep. Eshoo (CA-18). “Opponents of the FCC’s proposal to unlock the cable box have thrown together a salad of criticisms to derail it and have kept the market locked up for 20 years at a yearly intake of $20 billion. It’s time for innovation and competition in this market so consumers can finally win.”

“It’s been 20 years since we passed my provision in the 1996 Telecommunications Act to make the set-top marketplace a centerpiece of our telecommunications universe,” said Senator Markey (D-MA). “We don’t need any more studies to understand the problem – bloated rental fees, nominal choice, and virtually no competition in the set-top box marketplace. The solution is simple: no fees, greater competition and more consumer choice.”

“The average household is forced into fees of more than $200 a year for set-top boxes – an unjust and unjustifiable expense,” said Senator Blumenthal (D-CT). “Consumers deserve competitive options in accessing technology and television, not exorbitant prices dictated by monopolistic cable companies.”

“This proposal to open the set-top box industry to competition is about giving consumers more choice and value,” said Rep. Mark Takano (CA-41). “At $231 a year, consumers are spending more annually on renting these boxes then on almost any other piece of consumer electronics. Competition in this space will drive down costs for working families, who will continue to pay cable companies for access to content and information, all while making the boxes more reliable and easier to use.”

“Consumers now pay an exorbitant amount of money every year to rent set top boxes from their cable providers,” said Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03). “The FCC’s recent proposal would better protect consumers by allowing them to access their pay TV subscriptions how they see fit, whether that’s through a set top box leased from their cable provider, digital apps, or third party alternatives. The Commission’s efforts will ultimately increase marketplace competition, save consumers money, and afford better access to more diverse programming, including programs from minority and independent broadcasters.”

“I fully support FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler’s set-top box initiative. There have been great changes in how consumers can access content but with the myriad of available devices, minority and niche programmers are not given the same visibility and access as the larger programming providers,” said Robert L. Johnson, Chairman of RLJ Entertainment and Founder of Black Entertainment Television.  “That’s why I, and other minority programmers should, support giving consumers the choice of purchasing set-top devices that can combine traditional cable programming with streaming video content in an integrated user interface that puts all content on an equal footing.  Increasing the accessibility of streaming content would provide minority programmers assistance in overcoming the barriers such as access to capital and carriage on cable, which has historically kept them from entering the marketplace.  If you have a good program idea, some financing and access to the Internet, you can find your audience but your audience can only find you if they have a modem or a set-top box or software that lets them know you are there and gives them access to your programs unconstrained by the network gatekeeper. In my opinion, this is the best decision that the FCC has made to increase minority diversity in media content distribution since the Commission championed the tax certificate which allowed for the increase in minority ownership of media properties,” Johnson concluded.

“TiVo supports the FCC’s efforts to update the technology that fulfills the requirements of Section 629 and continues support for consumer options in navigation devices and experiences,” said Joe Weber, Chief Technology Officer, Service Provider Business Unit, TiVo. “The proposed improvements over CableCARD will bring further consumer benefit such as more choices in integrated content sources including emerging over the top and minority programming, while giving consumers the option to purchase and own their choice of device instead of the one option from their service provider. Consumers will continue to enjoy the same right to privacy and access to content that they enjoy today using CableCARD but now with the expanded capabilities of the new proposal.”

“For years the cable companies have tried to lock consumers into the past with rent-a-boxes that block both innovation and Internet streaming content,” said Chip Pickering, CEO of INCOMPAS, the Internet and competitive networks association. “But thanks to the FCC, now is the time to move away from an old monopoly box to competition and let the best boxes win. This is the fastest way to achieve lower prices, comply with the law and move to a box free future.”

“The Writers Guild of America, West strongly supports the FCC’s efforts to promote competition in the set-top box market,” said Corri Freedman, Political Director for WGAW.  “Consolidation over the past several decades created a video distribution market controlled by only a handful of companies. With the open Internet we are beginning to see what is possible in a more competitive landscape where legal video streaming has become a lucrative business and dominates Internet traffic. A more vibrant market for legal content and services is the best protection against piracy. The FCC’s proposed set-top box rules not only safeguard content, they are the logical and necessary next step in giving more choice to consumers and creating more distributors for the content writers create.”

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