In early 2016, the cable industry quietly launched one of the most misleading and successful lobbying efforts in the industry’s history. The target? A plan concocted by the former FCC that would have let customers watch cable TV lineups on third-party hardware. Given the industry makes $21 billion annually in rental fees thanks to its cable box hardware monopoly, the industry got right to work with an absolute wave of disinformation, claiming that the FCC’s plan would put consumer data at risk, result in a “piracy apocalypse,” and was somehow even racist (it wasn’t).
At one point, the industry even managed to grab the help of the US Copyright Office, which falsely claimed that more cable box competition would somehow violate copyright. Of course the plan had nothing to do with copyright, and everything to do with control, exemplifying once again that for the US Copyright Office, public welfare can often be a distant afterthought.
Once in office, the Pai FCC dutifully got to work dismantling the Wheeler-era FCC proposal, coordinated with and justified by cable providers which promised their own “free market alternatives” would make the proposal irrelevant. More specifically, they promised that you’d be able to order Comcast or Spectrum’s cable lineup through an app, making cable boxes irrelevant. But this promised alternative never showed up:
“Last June, Big Cable made an appealing offer for viewers and regulators. Companies would provide consumers with free apps to watch TV rather than making them pay monthly fees for cable boxes. But the cable companies didn’t do this out of the kindness of their hearts — they wanted to stop the Federal Communication Commission from passing regulations making them ship apps.
A year after that “Ditch the Box” pledge, two things have changed. There’s now zero threat of federal regulators requiring cable operators to give subscribers free apps to replace rented boxes, and the industry’s “Ditch the Box” plan seems to have disappeared.”
Funny how that works. This week the FCC put the finishing touches on scuttling the proposal, while also eliminating the need for cable providers to support CableCARD, technology that lets you avoid buying a traditional cable provider cable box, and instead using hardware like TiVo. It’s a tech the industry always under-supported because it took revenue away from cable box rentals. And now that too is largely dead, buried under (false) claims it was no longer necessary because streaming is now so gosh darn competitive:
“In explaining why it killed off Wheeler’s plan for good last week, the FCC largely regurgitated cable industry talking points. The agency said it had “serious and unresolved concerns” about security and copyright protection (concerns that consumer advocacy groups have disputed), and reiterated the same argument it used against CableCARD: Customers already have the ability to watch cable programming on their streaming devices, so there’s no need for more regulatory intervention.”
While it’s true that streaming providers have brought some helpful competition to the sector, much of the content is still owned by consolidated telecom/cable/media giants like AT&T Time Warner and Comcast NBC Universal. And while they’re very slowly losing their dominance thanks to cord cutters, these gatekeepers have enough power that they’re still doing everything in their power to lock you inside their walled gardens, tracked by their data tracking systems, using clunky old cable boxes if you want the “best experience”:
“Sure, if you’re a Comcast subscriber, you can use the Xfinity Stream app in place of a cable box on Roku devices, Samsung TVs, and LG TVs. But that same app isn’t available on other streaming platforms such as Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, or Chromecast. A report last year by BestAppleTV claimed that Comcast is more interested in building up its own X1 platform than supporting more third-party alternatives such as Apple TV, and while Comcast disputed the story, it hasn’t launched any new streaming apps in more than a year.
Likewise, if you’re getting TV service through Spectrum, you can use the Spectrum app on Roku, Apple TV, Samsung TVs, and Xbox One consoles, but not on Fire TV, Android TV, or Chromecast. Meanwhile, Dish Network only offers live TV and DVR on Amazon Fire TV devices.”
The ideal solution to this problem continues to be to vote with your wallet and cut the cord. But for those who can’t do so (due to a desire to watch live sports, or lack of a fast, uncapped broadband line for streaming), you’re still going to find yourself stuck, more often than not, renting a dated, crappy, expensive, locked-down cable box. And with the FCC’s help, the cable industry continues to work overtime to ensure that’s the most expensive proposition possible, charging you major monthly fees to use their cheap, clunky, proprietary, locked-down hardware.
FCC Formally Kills Rules That Would Have Brought Competition To The Cable Box
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